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Silent army of carers unable to take day off after funds slashed


Eva Thornton with her daughter Shirley and grandson Lewis. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Eva Thornton with her daughter Shirley and grandson Lewis. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Eva Thornton with her daughter Shirley and grandson Lewis. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Respite services to give carers a vital break have virtually collapsed, leaving thousands of people unable to ever take a day off.

Many of the silent army of 360,000 family carers are left struggling as respite care is now almost non-existent due to funding cuts, staff shortages and bed closures in facilities which have failed inspection standards.

Their plight was highlighted by the support organisation Family Carers Ireland which launched its fourth scoreboard, reviewing progress of the national carers' strategy launched in 2012. It found only 18 of the 42 actions in the strategy have achieved acceptable progress.

"We need respite care urgently to give family carers a vital break - and we are seeing the physical and mental health of carers across the country compromised due to lack of supports," said spokeswoman Catherine Cox.

"Family carers not being involved in planning the care of their loved ones remains a serious issue. Carers still report feeling sidelined or uninformed, and under-equipped to take on the role of caring for a loved one discharged from hospital."

Shirley Thornton, who cares full-time for her elderly mother Eva (83), said many carers are burned-out but they are being ignored by social services.

Ms Thornton, from Mount Merrion in Dublin, is a single mother to Lewis (11) and was the sole carer for both her parents until her father's death.


About two years ago, the stress took its toll and she suffered a severe panic attack, the "most frightening experience" of her life.

"I was advised by my GP to take a break but then you feel guilty," she recalled.

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Her parents were recommended for 42 hours of home help a week but they only got half of that from the HSE.

"There is somebody behind a desk saying we don't have that," Ms Thornton said.

When her father, Lewis, died, that home help was dramatically cut to just 10 hours for Eva.

"This was at a time she was grieving for her husband," said Ms Thornton.

"We are not just talking about the elderly. There are thousands of parents caring for children around the clock. But they can be getting just one night respite every six weeks. The more you are aware of what people are going through the more you find out the injustice of it all."

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