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Treatment of our elderly is nothing short of shameful

SHAMEFUL. That is the single most appropriate word to describe our Government's treatment of the elderly since it has been in power.

It was leading US politician Hubert Humphrey, serving under President Lyndon Johnson, who famously said that the moral test of a Government is how it looks after those in the twilight of their lives.

Well, this Government, in different variations, has been in power for the best part of a quarter century.


In terms of how it has looked after the elderly and infirm during that time, it has failed that moral test miserably, again and again allowing systems to operate that have led to neglect and even abuse, both financial and physical, of our older citizens.

You could quote chapter and verse about this Government's shameful record in this area. This week, however, moving pictures told a thousand words.

Any remaining illusion some of us may have had about our current leaders being friends of the elderly slithered down the moral plughole at around 10pm last Monday night.

The shocking TV sight of a distressed older lady being force-fed by a home "care" worker from a private agency acting for the State told us all we needed to know.


It shone an uncomfortable light on the moral bankruptcy and sheer dereliction of duty involved in many aspects of how healthcare is provided in this country.

In terms of looking after those in the twilight of their lives, this is a policy that has brought us:

  • Taking money illegally from public nursing home patients;

  • Allowing an unfair subsidy system for private nursing home care to fleece those who could not get public care;

  • Worse still, denying the Government had a legal duty to provide State long-term care for the elderly and mounting vigorous legal challenges to those who took them to court on this;

  • Frightening many older people by threatening to take away their medical cards;

  • Allowing neglect and abuse in some private nursing homes;

  • Zero regulation of the homecare system leading to neglect and mistreatment;

  • Imposing prescription charges on elderly medical card holders.

Far too often, organising healthcare comprises providing a bare minimum and inefficient public service and shunting some of the responsibility for these services outside the public system.

Prime Time has shown us what can result when market forces are allowed dictate healthcare provision.

How are any of the less scrupulous "entrepreneurs" in our midst who seek to take advantage of what for them is a cash cow ever going to mend their ways if the Government refuses to regulate them?

But there is no proper regulation of pretty much anything in our health system. Public hospitals, private hospitals, home care (either public or private), and many disability services are all unregulated and unlicensed.

We are fairly sure most of these services provide quality care most of the time. But we have to take that on trust because they are largely self-regulating

We do have regulation of nursing homes, but this only started after a care scandal.

Sometimes, the Government acts to improve things, but usually it's the politics of the latest atrocity.

This week we have yet again seen politicians and health officials expressing concern about something that has gone disastrously wrong on their watch.

It's like a broken record at this stage.


It's regulation by scandal. Healthcare by helpline. The only thing that's regulated is the bottom line, because in healthcare, cash is king. It's not good enough, but the Government and HSE have seen fit to masquerade this as health policy.

Whoever takes over as Health Minister next spring needs to stamp a safety and quality guarantee on our healthcare system.

And most importantly, they need to be judged on how well they treat some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Niall Hunter is Editor of Irishhealth.com