Miriam Lord: the doorsteps have taken to shouting about home-care supports
Calls for a rendition of Rock On Rockall as things heat up with the UK over fisheries
Everybody in the Dáil, from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar down, agrees carers are marvellous. Photograph: Fran Veale
The figures trip lightly off the tongue. Three hundred million. Four hundred and fifty six million. Eighteen point three million. Thirty million. Eight hundred thousand. Six thousand.
A whirl of numbers. But behind them countless invisible stories which would break your heart.
Inflation, demographics, budget, distress, wastage, savings, inefficiencies, performance, delivery, allocations, dignity, care, responsibility. A swirl of words in place of a kind word or ministering hand.
Guess what special week this is? Who or what are we celebrating now?
National Carers’ Week. Go easy on the champagne.
Carers are fantastic. Everybody in the Dáil, from the Taoiseach down, agrees they are marvellous. Happy Carers’ Week to you all. (It has been inexplicably overlooked by the greeting card companies).
They do “enormous” work, says Leo Varadkar. Society places “enormous value” on what they do because it is of “enormous value”.
Unfortunately they will be the last to know, what with being enormously busy being “everyday heroes”, as Mary Lou McDonald correctly described them in the Dáil the other day.
They are not enormously valued in their pay packets, and, according to Michael Healy-Rae during Dáil Questions, carers in Kerry are paying for their own petrol when driving to patients in remote areas because their expenses are not being processed.
But the doorsteps are talking. TDs from around the country returned to Leinster House after the elections and June bank holiday break with an issue causing major disquiet among constituents – the chronic state of home-help support, the effect this is having on the people who need it, and the knock-on damage to the hospital system.
The Taoiseach has all the figures. For two days in a row he took questions on the HSE’s decision to stop taking on new patients until at least November, while also rejigging existing hours.
Some €300 million is how much the service cost four years ago. It costs €556 million now. Some 18.3 million care hours are available, including an increase of 800,000 this year. An extra €30 million on funding has also been pencilled in.
“Significant” increase in hours, says the Taoiseach. “Huge amounts of additional money.”
For all that, more than 6,000 people – all those vulnerable individuals behind the statistics – are now on a waiting list for home care. Many of them stuck in hospital beds although medically fit to go, unable to return home without somebody to come in and do a few bits for them every day.
During Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty took up from where his party leader left off the day before.
“It costs the State €6,000 a week to have somebody in an acute bed. It costs them €160 if they can get the home-care support package. It makes absolutely no sense.”
Apparently these patients cannot leave hospital because the HSE hasn’t got the money to save itself a massive amount of money.
That doesn’t sound right.
The Taoiseach agrees. “We are trying to get to the bottom of this ourselves,” he told Doherty, who told him that people need more than debate on the issue.
“This is huge inefficiency, this is huge waste and this is causing serious distress to the patients, to their families and their carers. I’m asking you to act quickly on this.”
Varadkar was keen to acknowledge the work done by carers who help people remain in their homes for longer. This means they don’t have to go into a nursing home or stay in hospital, “thus freeing up hospital beds for others who need them”.
“There is no disagreement in the House about that.”
It all sounds very sensible. But that would be far too easy.
While he talked about the value of freeing up hospital beds on Wednesday, he wasn’t so sure on Tuesday when he said people might argue that giving more money for home help takes pressure off hospitals and reduces costs. But “there is no evidence” for savings further down the line.
“What appears to be logical doesn’t turn out to be the case when you actually look at it.”
Both sides [of the Rockall dispute] will slap each other over the heads with dead fish until they bond over Brexit
Leo, a former minister for health, sounds defeated by the HSE and its incredible ability to burn money. Simon Harris, the current Minister, probably wishes it would all just go away.
While home-care costs have gone up and the population has increased and aged slightly over the past four years, “that’s nowhere close to a 50 per cent increase”, pointed out an exasperated Taoiseach, emphasising again how much extra the Government has lobbed in over the same period.
Record levels of funding in recent years “beyond demographics, beyond inflation” and still no better services. “The solution is not always money.”
So what is it, then? It’s not like the Government (and previous ones) has not had time to think. Well.
“We are going to act on this, and Minister [Jim] Daly is going to meet with the nine chief officers of the community healthcare organisations next week to see how we can resolve this issue.”
That sounds promising.
Perhaps they might also consider “a process of intensified engagement”. This is the new phrase introduced especially to underline the Government’s commitment to refusing to recognise the UK’s sovereign claim over Rockall in the Atlantic while not starting a war with its friends in Scotland.
Both sides will slap each other over the heads with dead fish until they bond over Brexit.
The Taoiseach says that following close contact at government level, “common lines”(as opposed to aristocratic nets) have already been agreed. Every attempt will be made “to try resolve this amicably”.
The Ceann Comhairle, in the best of form following his successful launch earlier of an online exhibition called Treasures of the Dáil, had a thought.
“It seems it might be ripe for the Wolfe Tones to relaunch their record,” he remarked to the Taoiseach.
“I never heard that song until a couple of days ago,” laughed Leo, who wasn’t even born in 1976, when Rock On Rockall was released.
“It’s kinda catchy,” twinkled Sean Ó Fearghaíl, who is having a terrific year stewarding the Dáil’s centenary programme. (The new exhibition can be found on Dáil100 on Oireachtas.ie)
“Sing us a few bars,” shouted Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who would have warbled the whole thing backwards at the drop of a hat except nobody asked.
(It’s a terrible ditty.) All together now!
Oh rock on Rockall you’ll never fall
For Britain’s greedy hands
Oh you’ll meet the same resistance
Like you did in many lands
May the seagulls rise and pluck your eyes
And the water crush your shell
And the natural gas will burn your ass
And blow you all to hell.