DESPERATE social workers are sending begging letters to the Society of St Vincent de Paul in an attempt to plug the gap in HSE funding for sick and vulnerable patients.
The revelation comes as the Irish Independent launches a Christmas cash appeal asking readers to give generously to the SVP so it can help as many needy families as possible.
Just days ahead of a Budget that will further squeeze the already shrinking health service, primary care social workers -- in an act of last resort -- are asking the charity for cash to pay for help and services that the HSE can no longer fund.
They include requests for help in paying for the cleaning of houses, taxi fares, kitchen appliances and even rent arrears for people who are too sick to work.
One letter, from a HSE primary care centre to the SVP, asked for help in paying for Christmas decorations at the facility.
The SVP has received a huge number of letters -- on official headed paper -- from HSE workers in recent weeks and months.
Already inundated with a record number of requests for help from the poor and needy, the SVP has had to turn down all requests as it "cannot prop up state services".
The begging letters, some of which are detailed in the Irish Independent today (pictured right), reveal the shocking reality of our crumbling frontline medical services.
Despite imposing cutbacks in home help and other services, the HSE is on course for a deficit of €400m this year, driven by a rise in hospital patients, medical cards and drug costs.
Social workers have been hit hard, with wages and budgets slashed and under-pressure workers left to look after highly vulnerable patients with weakening support from the HSE. That pressure is set to increase after Wednesday's Budget raises another €3.5bn in tax hikes and cuts.
The begging letters included requests for:
* A contribution towards a €1,100 quote from a cleaning firm to "deep clean" a sick and vulnerable woman's house.
In other cases, primary care social workers asked for:
* Money to buy a new cooker and fridge for an elderly man with 'cognitive impairments'. A social worker told the SVP to be careful about approaching the man as he might become anxious and disturbed.
* Cash to clear rent arrears for a woman. A HSE social worker asked the SVP to make a cheque out to the landlord – Dublin City Council.
The SVP, which today launches a Christmas appeal with the Irish Independent, has firmly declined the HSE requests as it does not pay for or contribute to state services. Instead, it is focused on helping individuals and families who are struggling to pay for food and energy.
"We cannot prop up state services," said Patricia Carey, SVP director of services.
"People need to know that the money being sent to us is donated to be used solely for the work that we do. The money is for the people that we visit. It's what we do: we help the poor.
Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher said he wanted the HSE and Health Minister James Reilly to provide an explanation. "This is quite extraordinary. The State is writing to a charity seeking help when it should be the other way around," he said.
"The SVP is at the coalface of absolute poverty and this is a practice that must cease immediately. I have no problem with the HSE highlighting hardship but not when it is looking for a contribution to pay for items it should be paying for."
A senior charity campaigner said last night: "What is most shocking is the pressure that social workers are under that they feel they must write these letters.
"It's a very sad indictment of our priorities that they are being forced, essentially, to beg a charity for help. They are doing a remarkable job under the most fierce pressures."
The Irish Independent asked the HSE for a comment on Friday afternoon and as of last night there was no response.