Anger at HSE’s unfair respite charge

Bernie Commins

Bernie Commins

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has come under fire this week in South Tipperary for introducing new charges for respite services availed of by families providing full-time care for a loved one.

Families in receipt of in-patient respite care in South Tipperary have received letters informing them that they will have to pay a maximum of €175 per week of respite availed of, or €25 per day, if the person receiving the respite care has a weekly income of just €208.

In South Tipperary HSE-provided, in-patient respite care is available to families where nursing care is provided on a 24-hour basis and this occurs in five units: St Anthony’s in Clonmel, St Patrick’s in Cashel, Cluain Arann in Tipperary Town, St Brigid’s Hospital in Carrick-on-Suir and St Teresa’s in Clogheen.

This type of in-patient care means families across South Tipperary will be subject to the maximum charge if they have exceeded 30 days of such care in any 12-month rolling period. Those in receipt of respite care have been requested to send on details of income and outgoings as they are now assessed for the charge.

Manager of the Carers Association in Clonmel, Richie Molloy, criticised the HSE, making the point that only those receiving a high level of care in their home in the first place, qualify for this type of in-patient care.

“If someone qualifies for this respite they really need full-time care, and my worry is that the person caring for them would be less inclined to put the person in for the full week at this cost, and they will burn out faster.”

According to the HSE, if the person in respite receives less than €208 per week, the charge would also be less than €175. Mr Molloy said that in most of these cases, the person who goes in for respite is a pensioner who receives the state pension of €230, and he believes that most would be eligible to pay the maximum amount.

He said the charge will cripple some families already struggling: “When your income is small, all these things make a huge impact. If the State wants to keep people at home as long as possible, then they are going about it the wrong way.

A spokesperson for the HSE explained that this charge for in-patient respite care is applied on a national basis, and is not new, but that South Tipperary, Carlow and Kilkenny are some of the last areas for it to be introduced.

In a statement it added: “Charges for persons receiving in-patient respite care services are calculated in the same way as charges for those receiving any other type of in-patient services, i.e. the HSE shall impose a charge (except where specifically exempted) in respect of any day where an individual has previously received at least 30 days of any form of in-patient service over the previous rolling 12-month period.”

It also said there are many definitions of respite care but they all contain reference to temporary relief for the carer and this temporary relief may be given through offering services in clients’ own homes or in institutions/day centres.

Cllr Molloy said it was irrelevant whether these charges have been applied nationally for some time, adding that even as early as 2005, people were not faced with the same cuts and additional charges that exist now. And I worry that while they say you get 30 days free now, are we going down the road of having to pay for respite care?” He said anyone on a rota for respite care for one week out of four or six would exceed the 30-day limit very quickly.

Cllr Molloy intends to put a motion at the next Clonmel Borough and South Tipperary County Council meetings calling on the minister for health to stop this charge immediately.

Independent Cllr Darren Ryan described the move as as ‘appalling and insulting’: “This is even a new low for the heartless decision makers in the HSE. How can we expect people who work 24/7 caring for their loved ones to now pay €175 to have their family member looked after for one week. This is an absolute disgrace and a very much ill-thought out decision.”

He said families had contacted him, in a state of shock and panic about how they can afford this fee. “It has now come to the point where our Fine Gael and Labour Oirechtais members need to step up to the plate once and for all, South Tipperary health services have suffered enough under this Government and we need someone to now call stop.

“It’s very easy for Deputy Hayes to release press statements saying St. Patrick’s Hospital in Cashel is safe when the people who need it most are now going to have to fund it! Families cannot take any more cuts to their domestic income and now the HSE are going to charge them for a vital service.”