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'Granny dumping' to blame for blocking beds, doctors warn


Eamon Timmins, Age Action Ireland, says that many older people are feeling lonelier than ever

Eamon Timmins, Age Action Ireland, says that many older people are feeling lonelier than ever

Eamon Timmins, Age Action Ireland, says that many older people are feeling lonelier than ever

A PHENOMENON known as 'granny dumping' is the secret that is partially to blame for the critically high number of patients forced to wait for medical attention on hospital trolleys, leading consultants have warned.

As nursing unions threaten to strike after the number of patients waiting on trolleys hit record levels last week, the Department of Health dismissed 'granny dumping' as a "very pejorative term unfair to relatives, patients, and also to clinicians".

But senior emergency department consultants say hospital beds are being blocked by families dumping elderly relatives on the health service during the Christmas period.

Doctors also claim some families refuse to sign relatives up to the 'Fair Deal' scheme, which allows patients to share nursing home costs with the State, because they do not want to spend their future inheritance on their loved one's care.

"It's no surprise that some families would rather get the loot than pay the State in terms of legacy," Cork University Hospital consultant Chris Luke told the Sunday Independent. Last week, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) balloted members on industrial action after it emerged more than 600 patients were languishing on trolleys, waiting for care in 28 hospitals.

Senior doctors also warned lives were being put at risk in cramped hospitals besieged with patients after the Christmas period. Seasonal factors, such as flus and colds, along with hospital bed closures and a lack of nursing home beds, are being blamed for the current crisis. However, medics privately also blame 'granny dumping' for the logjam in emergency departments. Mr Luke said the issue is a stark reality for many patients and is putting an extra burden on the already stretched health system.

"They will call over a porter or receptionist and say 'can you keep on eye on my mum I'm just going to park the car, I'll be back in a minute' and that's the last we'll see of them," he said. "There is no longer a moral agreement that you feel you have to look after your granny until she dies. People don't sign up to that anymore," he added.

Consultant and Irish Emergency Medicine Association spokesperson, Fergal Hickey, said many people who leave older relatives in hospitals are embarrassed but have been forced into the situation due to a lack of State supports

"Would you want to, in your own mind, be associated with dumping your mother?" he said. "None of us would, so therefore, people are ashamed of it, but they have often been driven to it," he added.

The phenomenon peaks during Christmas when families bring older relatives suffering from conditions brought on by the colder weather into hospital. "It's not just badness that has driven people to this, there is an element of desperation," Mr Hickey said.

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"Infrastructures that were available in the past, such as home help, have been filleted."

Emigration, smaller family structures and longer work commutes have also left older people without relatives to offer full-time care when their health deteriorates.

Age Action Ireland chief executive, Eamon Timmins, said families are "extremely stretched" and finding it increasingly difficult to care for their elderly relatives.

"Many families are going to heroic lengths to look after their families but at a certain stage, a GP will say the person will need 24/7 nursing care, and the only place they can get that is in emergency departments," he said.

INMO general secretary Liam Doran said none of his members ever raised the issue with him. However, Mr Hickey said nurses he worked with were fully aware of the situation.

The Department of Health said all patients are treated according to their needs.

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