Carer cutbacks are really hurting, says Mary

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

The Cahir mother of an 11 year-old autistic girl has highlighted how government cutbacks in home support and emergency respite services are causing huge stress and strain to home carers like her across the country.

Mary Condon from Church Street, Cahir, whose youngest daughter Aine is severely autistic, told The Nationalist the number of home support hours from the HSE to assist her with housework were cut by more than half from 12 hours a week to just five hours since last July.

Mary highlighted the difficulties she is having coping with caring for Aine at home in an emotional interview on Monday night’s RTE Prime Time Investigates documentary on how health service cutbacks are affecting carers and the sick, disabled and elderly loved ones they look after at home.

She told The Nationalist that the reduction in the home support hours has made a huge difference to her ability to care for Aine, who isn’t able to communicate verbally, doesn’t sleep much at night and is getting stronger as she gets older.

“We are only getting one hour of home support in the morning for five mornings a week. How much would it cost the State to give me a bit of help at home? I could keep Aine at home longer, which is what I want to do but physically and mentally I am not able to.”

The family have applied for a residential place for Aine but places are so scarce that the young Cahir girl is waiting to get on a waiting list.

Mary said it was also very difficult to avail of emergency respite care for Aine if any family emergency arose as happened when her mother died in March and Pat’s mother passed away last week.

The family secured respite care for Aine for two nights when Mary’s mother passed away but they were unable to get it for the day of the funeral. And she said they had to make many phone calls before securing emergency respite care for their daughter for Pat’s mother’s funeral.

Mary and Pat’s oldest daughter Mary, aged 13, was awarded the National Young Carer of the Year award in 2008 for the help with caring for her younger sister but this went against them in trying to secure more home support hours as the HSE regarded her daughter as an extra carer.

She feels this is very unfair as Mary is still only a child and shouldn’t be expected to fulfil such a role.

Richie Molloy, Manager of the Carers Association Resource Centre in Clonmel, said the centre was seeing the effects of government cutbacks on home carers on a daily basis.

Home help hours were being continuously reviewed by the HSE and a review meant the hours were generally cut.

“I have noticed in the past two years that carers are having big difficulties accessing home help hours. If you apply for home help now you are really up against it to get the hours.”

He pointed out that it wasn’t just in extreme cases of disability, illness and old age where the home help service was of huge benefit.

“You could have a wife looking after a husband in his 70s and if she can get four to six hours of home help a week it makes a huge difference to her.”

Mr Molloy said it had also become much more difficult to qualify for the Carers Allowance of €206 per week. Carers are waiting four months for their Carers Allowance applications to be processed and the medical criteria to qualify for the allowance is more stringent.

“I have seen a lot more genuine home carers being turned down. I advise them to appeal but those appeals take more than 12 months,” he said.

Mr Molloy, who is also an independent member of South Tipperary Co. Council, said Mary Condon’s experience with securing emergency respite care for her daughter Aine showed how difficult it was for carers to access this service in the event of a family crisis or occasion such as a wedding and even a hospital appointment for the carer.

He said the government’s 3% cut in funding to the Carers Association this year has forced the organisation to cut back the non-emergency respite home care service it offers to its members.

He paid tribute to Prime Time Investigates for highlighting the real hardship family carers and the loved ones they care for are facing due to government funding cutbacks and to Mary Condon O’Connor for highlighting her experience on the documentary.

Mr Molloy said the Clonmel Carers Association Centre received a huge amount of calls from carers on Tuesday morning in response to the Prime Time Special.

He said the programme completely backed up the Association’s own findings that many family carers are living in poverty and in very difficult circumstances.

The programme’s survey of family carers found that more than 82 % of respondent have been affected by the cutbacks in State services.

The research also identified the stress of caring and how the cutbacks have left many carers feeling despair, anxiety and experiencing severe depression.

“We know there are more cuts to come with no regard or appreciation for the role of family carers who are providing vital and often round-the-clock care. These cuts are forcing carers to place their loved ones in hospital or residential care settings, costing Government more and going against stated government policy of supporting the care of older people and those with disabilities in the home” says Mr Molloy.

He called on the new Government to immediately implement the National Carers Strategy, which provides for the long term continuation of care in the home, putting in place practical supports and services for family carers including in-home respite, needs assessment, financial and emotional support and timely information provision.