The tradition of relatives caring for sick, elderly or disabled loved ones at home is under severe threat, a new report warned yesterday.
Many of Ireland's 161,000 carers are struggling to cope and feel over-burdened, unappreciated and unable to have a life of their own.
The report -- based on widespread consultation with carers -- called for an overhaul of the current inadequate State supports for carers, which are based on a means test.
Enda Hogan, chief executive of the Carers Association, which produced the report, said: "The clear message is that family carers are deeply dissatisfied with their current situation and ambitious action is urgently needed in the upcoming national carers strategy."
The findings, launched by Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin -- who promised her department will not be hit by forthcoming spending cuts -- showed:
l The relationship between carers and social care staff was a source of considerable distress.
l Carers found public services were sometimes unfriendly and unhelpful.
l Many reported long delays in getting access to essential services such as occupational therapy or grants to adapt their homes.
l The availability of home helps is patchy and public health nurses are over-stretched.
l Carers often feel taken for granted by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in decisions about the allocation of home care services.
The report, based on consultations with over 400 carers, confirmed earlier research showing many of them are coping with their own health problems including anxiety, depression, stress and back pain.
The State needs to share more of the burden and tailor packages to an individual carer's needs, allowing them to work on a full or part-time basis if they want, according to the respondents.
Meanwhile, Ms Hanafin reminded carers that, since the beginning of June, the respite care grant was increased by €200 to €1,700 per year in respect of each care recipient.
"There have also been major improvements in the respite care grant, which has been extended to all carers providing full-time care and attention regardless of their income.
"As this special grant . . . is not means tested many more people are eligible."