Wednesday 11 December 2019

Ministers search for €500,000 to quell furore over panic alarm cuts

Anne-Marie Walsh and Fionnan Sheahan

THE Government is moving to quell the furore over the cut to the funding for personal panic alarms for the sick and elderly.

Ministers are trying to find up to €500,000 in savings elsewhere to put into the scheme after the budget was cut, the Irish Independent understands.

The allocation was reduced from €2.2m to €1.1m this year.

In the wake of the backlash, Environment Minister Phil Hogan and Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin are working to find the cash in other areas.

The funding will mean cash will be available for the scheme later in the year.

The Carers Association said the cut had led to a surge in calls to its helpline.

The Coalition was warned it "will have blood on its hands" if it forges ahead with plans to take life-saving devices from the elderly.

Carolyn Akintola's mother, Elsie Kellaghan (75), who has kidney failure, is lucky enough to have a 'panic button' that allows her to get help in an emergency.

But her daughter fears that lives will be lost due to a drastic budget cut that takes effect from February 1. The cut means a grant given to 23,686 people in the past to pay for the devices will be cut from €250 to €230.

In addition, over-65s who live with someone else will no longer qualify for the panic button, which is hooked up to a call centre through their phone line.

The cuts will not affect those who have already received the grant, but will affect those who apply for one from next month.

Under the new rules, the mother and daughter – who are both wheelchair users – would not get it.

"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there will be a death, and more than one because of this," said Carolyn, who lives in Tallaght, Dublin.

"It's a small, petty, mean-minded thing to do. I'm bitterly disappointed that anyone with a heartbeat would do this to an older person."

She said the device was a "God-send" as she and her mother have disabilities.

"Even if I was fully able-bodied, I don't have family support and there are occasions when I have to leave my mother for a couple of hours to get a prescription or go to the doctor or dentist.

"The alarm pendant, which she wears around her neck, is absolutely essential to her."

She said she had come home on one occasion to find her mother collapsed on the floor, and she was able to get immediate help because of the alarm.

When activated, it rang an emergency response unit and the operator, who had the family's address and medical records, called an ambulance while she put her mother in the recovery position.

She said she believed the elderly were being targeted for cuts, including cuts in their telephone allowance, because they were an easy target.

"What annoys me is that this cut is being brought in while a huge budget is being spent on tablets and new communications equipment for TDs."

Irish Independent

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