Nora Owen urges Government to establish commission on care

Lessons from the pandemic must not be forgotten, says former justice minister

Nora Owen: said many nursing homes would not have managed without foreign workers during the pandemic. “I hope they are given the right to stay now. We have become very dependent on staff from abroad and the Government has to recognise that.”  Photograph: Dave Meehan

Nora Owen: said many nursing homes would not have managed without foreign workers during the pandemic. “I hope they are given the right to stay now. We have become very dependent on staff from abroad and the Government has to recognise that.” Photograph: Dave Meehan

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Former justice minister Nora Owen has urged the Government not to “forget the lessons learned” during the pandemic and to proceed quickly with the establishment of a commission on care in order to protect vulnerable people and their carers.

“I worry that the focus will now be on jobs and the reopening of pubs and the end of the pandemic unemployment payment, and important lessons we learned will be forgotten very quickly,” said the former minister.

Ms Owen, whose husband Brian died last November after living for 14 years with vascular dementia, said lockdown had exacerbated difficulties for many families.

“I was 12 years younger than Brian but I know a lot of 80-somethings who are minding 80-somethings and it is very difficult,”said the 75-year-old former Fine Gael TD.

The sudden shutdown in March 2020 of day care facilities and respite services had increased the burden and isolation on both those with dementia and their carers, she said.

Ms Owen, who will address the fifth annual Leitrim’s Health is Wealth conference on May 26th, said many people had “retreated back into their homes” after day care services closed.

“If you are confined to a house minding a husband who is forgetting how to do routine things, like how to go to the toilet or take a shower, it is very difficult with no respite”, she said.

Ms Owen, who cared for her husband at home for 12 years, said he sometimes had not wanted to get undressed when going to bed.

“So I would wait until he was asleep and then take his shoes off,” she recalled.

The importance of events like Leitrim’s Health is Wealth, with its focus on mental health issues, was that it helped people to realise they were not alone, she said.

She will speak at the online conference on practical issues like the importance of making a will and of having a power of attorney created while someone is still mentally capable.

“I would like to see the Government, as a result of this pandemic, tackle issues like this and look at ways of assisting people,” said the former politician.

There had been “many painful traumatic rows in families” over the failure to sort out such issues, she added.

Nursing homes

The former deputy leader of Fine Gael urged the Government not to forget how the pandemic had affected nursing homes when, for example, people had been moved out of acute hospitals and into care homes where Covid-19 had spread as a result.

Stressing that infections like the winter vomiting bug could also be spread this way, she said: “We have to look at why people are still in hospital beds when they don’t need to be, and why there aren’t enough step-down facilities”.

Ms Owen said many nursing homes would not have managed without foreign workers during the pandemic.

“I hope they are given the right to stay now. We have become very dependent on staff from abroad and the Government has to recognise that”.

Ms Owen said she had spoken to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar about the need for a commission on care, which was promised in the programme for Government.

The Leitrim’s Health is Wealth conference will also hear about the need to teach boys and young men about empathy .

Retired community mental health nurse Hubert McHugh, who founded the conference with colleague Valerie Ward, will speak about “vile and demeaning” photographs and commentary about women which is being circulated on WhatsApp by groups of men.

“They really amount to hardcore pornography. It’s usually only a few people in the group who put up this grotesque material but nobody speaks out because of the fear of being ridiculed,” said the retired nurse. He said the messages were often associated with stag parties or sports clubs.

“We as a society need to look at the messages we give boys who are often afraid to show a vulnerable or tender side,” he added.

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