Residential respite cuts will escalate, says senator
'Let them put that on the cover of Time'
CUTBACKS to residential respite care are about to escalate across the country in the coming weeks, a Labour Party senator has warned.
Senator John Whelan said the nature of the cuts and the "unilateral and cavalier" fashion in which they have been implemented without any meaningful consultation represented a new low for the HSE and the Department of Health.
He claimed they were "cheerleaders" for the private agencies and service providers that they have contracted to provide health care, such as the Muiriosa Foundation based in Co Kildare which receives €40m funding from the HSE to provide services across five counties.
Mr Whelan said families on the brink can no longer cope with the shock that the "paltry" one-weekend-in-six respite break which they had relied upon has been arbitrarily withdrawn.
And he said if the Department of Health and the Government stand over what he called this "grossly unjust, unfair and unworkable policy" they are badly misguided.
"As a government, we have surely and truly lost our way if we are reduced to picking on Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autistic children, to pay the price for our political, banking and economic failings," he said.
"Let them put that on the cover of Time magazine."
His comments came after a march in Abbeyleix last month when families of disabled children, some in wheelchairs, protested after Fountain View respite house in the town, which had been providing adult respite during the past decade, stopped offering respite support.
Children and adults began then using a respite house in Mountrath, Co Laois. Organiser of the march, Michael Gorman said that, since the centre's closure, 50 users have had to transfer to Mountrath Children's Respite House.
Mr Gorman said yesterday what happened was a direct result of cutbacks but it had all happened without consultation.
Mr Gorman said his son Eoin, 17, who has Down syndrome, used to go to respite from Friday evening to Monday morning but he was now back at 7pm on Sunday, or he may have to be picked up on Saturday evening.
Another woman with a severely disabled son said it had always been a bad service and was now worse with waiting lists for the respite house. Now the foundation was trying to get host families in a Share-a-Break scheme to take disabled children.
A statement from the Muiriosa Foundation said there had been four years of significant reduction of allocations totalling €6m.
While cuts had been absorbed without significantly affecting the amount of services delivered, it warned: "We are now close to the breaking point in respect of maintaining core services."
The foundation accepted that for a significant number of children and adults their respite needs could be most appropriately addressed in this way.
But there were big costs involved; with a cost of €350 a night per person; and against the backdrop of major cuts the costs were neither sustainable nor justifiable where the need was to assist someone to access social and recreational outlets. The individual could be linked with a supporter for the five or six hours when a social event took place, and the Share-a-Break programme could offer overnight accommodation with a carefully vetted and matched family.
CEO Brendan Broderick said: "We've kept the show on the road and there are more winners then losers in this situation. Many people are going to get more respite, particularly those with severe disabilities, some the same and some less of the overnight respite."
Describing Mr Whelan's statement that the one-weekend-in-six respite break had been cut, as a "sweeping statement", he said he had offered to brief Mr Whelan on the situation. "If he is talking about drastic reductions he is not reading his emails," he said.
However, Mr Whelan said: "The policy being pioneered here is morally, medically and monetarily misguided; unjust and unsafe. It is no longer a question of a struggle between left and right in terms of the provision of health services but a struggle between right and wrong."
In the Senate the new Minister of State at the Dept of Health, Alex White, said the HSE had told the Health Minister that the Muiriosa Foundation had its full support for the proposed changes.
Meanwhile thousands of sick and elderly people are to march on Leinster House on Wednesday October 17 to demand that the Government and the HSE immediately "cease attacking the elderly, sick and disabled" and restore all home-help hours and home package cuts this year.