| 14.7°C Dublin

I owe my dad everything - the least we can do is to campaign for better care for our elderly


Broadcaster Brendan Courtney in a still from his recent RTÉ documentary ‘We need to Talk About Dad’.

Broadcaster Brendan Courtney in a still from his recent RTÉ documentary ‘We need to Talk About Dad’.

Broadcaster Brendan Courtney in a still from his recent RTÉ documentary ‘We need to Talk About Dad’.

This Government is failing older people every year. Not only that, they're planning to fail them. Every single person I meet has a story about how as a country, we're not doing right for old people or caring for them properly. We need to have a system that provides properly for older people, the very people who built this country, but we don't.

We know we have a deeply damaged healthcare system that needs to be fixed quickly. We're spending the same or sometimes more than other European countries on healthcare per head of population but we have far less to show for it; so there's a fundamental problem there that nobody seems willing to fix.


Brendan with his dad, Frank, and his mum, Nuala, on his 21st birthday.

Brendan with his dad, Frank, and his mum, Nuala, on his 21st birthday.

Brendan with his dad, Frank, and his mum, Nuala, on his 21st birthday.

During the course of researching my RTÉ documentary 'We Need to Talk About Dad' after my father, Frank, had a stroke almost two years ago, I started looking into the whole issue of elderly care in Ireland. The programme documented my family's decision of whether to care for our father at home or take the very difficult step of placing him in long-term care.

At the time the documentary aired, viewers saw a family in a state of flux and trauma, who were uncertain about the future. He's now in a wonderful facility where he's comfortable but the health system simply doesn't allow him to be at home. And there's thousands of old people who aren't as fortunate. As part of the research into the show, I began collating data to examine just how many elderly people are currently waiting for HSE homecare.

When you've picked your dad off the floor after he's had a stroke, it takes a lot to horrify you but I was shocked at the figures. I thought the number was around 1,400 but it's not - it's almost 5,000. These are people who've been through the application process, who have been approved and who are getting absolutely nothing. Worse, there are 40 elderly people right now who need intensive home care - which means they need help to be taken to the toilet or given medication - and are not getting the care they're entitled to. They're on their own right now and that breaks my heart.

The Government is aware of these waiting lists; it knows our ageing population will mean these lists will grow longer each year; it knows the areas of the country worst affected; it even knows how much it will cost to clear them - €32.3m. But it is deliberately choosing not to. Older people are just not a priority - and it makes my blood boil.

This year, €14.3bn will be spent by the Government on health - €32.3m is only a tiny fraction of this and would clear home-care waiting lists. It is not too much to ask.

Separately, I would also like to see the Fair Deal scheme overhauled. This provides financial support to people who need long-term nursing- home care. But I would like to see that scheme extended so that it allows the care to be provided in the patient's own home. This is obviously an issue very close to my heart so I've been down at the Dáil a lot recently. I've been dealing with Róisín Shortall (Social Democrats) who's been tabling parliamentary questions on this issue. Willie O'Dea (Fianna Fáil) also tabled a bill last January calling for the Fair Deal scheme to be changed, but it's going to be a six-month-long consultation process and, in all likelihood, we won't even hear the contents of the report for a year.

But if there's one thing that old people don't have, it's time - so this is just kicking the issue down the road. The other problem is that to change the scheme would mean that people's homes become institutions of care, so that means they have to be moderated, which makes it a much more expensive process.

When we first did the documentary, I just can't tell you the reaction it received. It's been unbelievable. It's touched so many people's hearts as a very personal issue. What really touched me is that people didn't want to just stop me and say "congratulations" and the usual stuff. People wanted to tell me their stories, so I have literally hundreds and hundreds of letters from people all around the country.

Out of all the thousands of messages I've got from people since the documentary aired in January, one struck a particular cord with me. The guy who wrote it handed it in to reception at the hospice in Harold's Cross, where my dad is.

He finished it off by saying: "The suits will come after you, be careful. Just because you tightened a nut on the machine, don't f*** the spanner away. You'll need it in the future." I read that out to my dad and he howled laughing when he heard it.

Everything I have in my life is because of my dad, because of the sacrifices he made for me. I wouldn't have my education, my home, my opportunities, my comfortableness in my own sexuality, the roads outside my house.

So I'm going to keep on fighting for him and all the other elderly people who don't have a voice. The one resounding thing I'm getting from people is, the Government can find the money if it wants to and it would make such a big difference for so many people and to so many families.

We really need to think hard about how we care for older people in Ireland. They deserve the respect and care they're entitled to. I will be campaigning as hard as I can for them. I feel it's the least I can do after all they've done for us.

Brendan Courtney is a broadcaster and fashion designer

Irish Independent