Thursday 14 December 2017

Comment: Does your plight have to go viral before the Government will listen?

Michael and Kathleen Devereaux
Michael and Kathleen Devereaux

Sasha Brady

Does your plight have to go viral before the Government will take notice and intervene?

On Monday, the story of a Wexford couple who had been separated for the first time in their 63-year marriage when one of them was rejected for nursing home care, sparked a national outrage.

After an assessment by the HSE, Michael (89), was accepted into a nursing home through the Fair Deal scheme, but Kathleen (86) was rejected. Michael was left occupying a double-room on his own, while his wife waited in hospital. The family tried to appeal the HSE's decision but without any luck.

The couple explained their plight through tears on RTE's Liveline earlier this week. The story went viral and made it all the way to the Dail.

The decision to refuse Mrs Devereaux a place in the home with her husband was overturned after intervention by the Government on Tuesday and the couple were reunited.

The Devereaux family had already tried to appeal the HSE's decision before going public with their story. But they got nowhere.

Their son Tom explained to Liveline that he wrote to his local TDs to ask for help but received nothing but "platitudes" in return.

They had turned to the media as a last resort when they discovered that their only option was to take the matter to the High Court. The family decided against putting their parents through the trauma of a lengthy court battle.

So, out of desperation they went on national radio in the hope that something would be done.

The HSE said its social care division only "became aware of the circumstances" of the couple through the radio coverage, despite the fact that the family "fought and fought" with the HSE to say their mother is not independent and needed medical supervision.

After the Liveline furore, the HSE ordered a review of Mrs Devereaux's needs and "the totality of her circumstances".

It's fair to assume that the Devereaux family would still be fighting to reunite their parents if it wasn't for the media coverage their story received.

And yet anyone who heard their story on the radio could understand the decision to separate the parents made no sense at all. But their pleas to the people who should have helped them were drowned out by overly bureaucratic rules and decisions.

A similar situation occurred earlier this year with Limerick teenager, Megan Halvey-Ryan. She appeared on an episode of RTE Investigates in February, which focused on people who had waited an extended period of time on public health waiting lists.

Limerick teenager Megan Halvey-Ryan suffers from scoliosis – an abnormal curvature of the spine. Photo: RTÉ
Limerick teenager Megan Halvey-Ryan suffers from scoliosis – an abnormal curvature of the spine. Photo: RTÉ

The 13-year-old, who suffers with scoliosis (an abnormal curvature of the spine), had been on a waiting list for a life-changing operation to correct her spine for two years. Due to a "backlog of surgeries", her operation date had been put back a number of times.

She bravely revealed the extent of her suffering on the RTE documentary, explaining that her condition had deteriorated because of the wait and she was forced to miss school with the pain.

The story was picked up by several national newspapers and Megan gave a follow-up interview with The Late Late Show. It eventually prompted Health Minister Simon Harris to promise speedy changes to the system.

Megan finally underwent the long-awaited surgery in March.

Her mother spoke to about how difficult it was to expose her daughter's pain on TV. She also said had they not appeared on TV, they could well still be waiting today.

"I know Megan wasn't scheduled for any surgery, as I was ringing Crumlin Children's Hospital everyday continuously, so I don't know where the order came from but I know the hospital had to have been told by someone high up that 'she's not to go on the Late Late without a date after the documentary," she said in March.

"It frustrates me so much as a mother because no mother ever wants to put their child on TV, to expose their private life like that, particularly as Megan is a teenager, she needs privacy."

When the Prime Time investigation into the Leas Cross nursing home broke in 2005, it created a national scandal. The investigation uncovered a serious deterioration in the standard of care due at the nursing home in Swords due to the HSE's failure to employ a sufficient number of staff to deal with the increase in the number patients.

The Commission of Inquiry into the Leas Cross Nursing Home was established shortly after the Prime Time report and the public outcry that followed. It found that inspections and complaints going back a number of years should have alerted the HSE to the problems at the home.

The scandal exposed a lack of desire among government agencies to meet the complex needs of the elderly. When the media exposed the horrors to the public, it put pressure on the the Government to introduce increased inspection of private and public nursing homes.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) was also established shortly after the scandal broke.

But gaps still exist. And not everyone has the will or energy to make their complaint public, while some issues are too sensitive for the public sphere.

The fact that so many people 'talk to Joe', kick up a fuss on social media or take their complaints to local and national newspapers only highlights the failings within the system and reminds us how far removed the Government is from the public.

In May when it was announced that the Sisters of Charity were to end their 183-year involvement with St Vincent's Hospital (in turn, relinquishing control over the new €300m maternity hospital) it was seen as a victory for the public.

The fact that Health Minister Simon Harris didn't think twice about 'gifting' the maternity hospital to a religious order proved how out of touch the Government is with the sentiment of modern Ireland.

Tens of thousands of people made their outcry public on social media. The massive public backlash put an end to the project.

If their voices weren't given a public platform, nothing would have changed.

When bureaucracy rules over common sense and compassion, people have to scream and shout.

Online Editors

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