Elderly care: a record of chronic neglect

Number of citizens over 65 is projected to rise from 637,000 to more than one million within 14 years

 

An absence of laws and clear protocols to protect the interests of older people and respond to their needs have been amongst the greatest failures of successive governments. A related unwillingness to recognise or confront abuse of the elderly reflected innate conservatism. Such a situation can no longer be tolerated.

Consideration of these matters has been referred to the Citizens’ Assembly and it heard deeply troubling evidence last weekend. State spending on elderly care fell by almost €1,000 per person during the recession. That happened because community services were not protected and supported by legislation. Health managers reduced ‘discretionary’ spending on home care packages, in spite of an official policy that encouraged people to stay in their homes. This counter-productive approach was made possible because the funding system is biased in favour of more expensive, long-stay residential care.

Placing community services on a legislative footing would mark an important social advance by reducing regional service disparities and providing clarity in terms of consumer eligibility. Action is vital because of a rapidly aging population. The number of citizens over 65 is projected to rise from 637,000 to more than one million within 14 years. As things stand, family carers are expected to bear much of the financial cost.

A report from the National Safeguarding Committee that monitors the abuse of vulnerable adults was equally disturbing, showing a persistent rise in the number of complaints received by the Health Service Executive. Psychological, physical and financial abuse all figured prominently and chairwoman Patricia Rickard Clarke believed the figures represented the ‘tip of an iceberg’. Apart from physical and psychological abuse, forcing elderly people to sign over property and the power of attorney to family members raises questions for doctors and solicitors involving diminished mental capacity and their responsibilities in these matters. Stricter oversight along with laws and clear codes of practice are required.

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