Sunday, January 22, 2012
Defending the rights of the elderly
March and Rally in Drogheda
Yesterday afternoon (Saturday) this blog and several thousand people from the Drogheda and Ardee area attended a march and rally in Drogheda to protest at the threatened closure of the Cottage Hospital in the town. Under plans by the Fine Gael and Labour government it and St. Joseph’s nursing home in Ardee are likely to close.
Both buildings are home to 33 long stay residents and a similar number of respite patients. In the course of a year the number of patients who receive respite is around 300.
The buildings are old. But the staff are professional, dedicated and caring and over the years both have developed a warm family closeness.
One resident in the Cottage Home is 97 years old and another has been there for over 30 years and many of the rest for a decade or more.
The threat to their home means that the residents are frightened by the prospect of a major move and the disintegration of their nursing home family.
I met many of residents and staff from both homes who braved a cold day to demonstrate their opposition to the government’s cutback plans.
The large turnout is evidence of the huge affection the people of Drogheda have for the Cottage Hospital.
Inevitably in the arguments for and against closure all sorts of excuses are pedalled about by the government. Most often that older nursing homes are not fit for purpose. It is said that they are of poor standard and present a health risk to residents.
However this can’t be said of the Cottage Hospital or St. Joseph’s. Both have received regular inspections and have passed with flying colours. The Cottage has had 3 HIQUA inspections to date, and on all occasions it scored highly on clinical aspect and quality of care. HIQA reported that the hospital is SAFE, SECURE and SUITABLE.
So whatever the spin any decision to close this hospital has nothing to do with health and safety issues for patients and staff. It is quite simply a political decision based on the government’s determination to pursue its austerity programme.
Citizens understand this. Events at the rally demonstrated this and showed public anger and rejection of austerity policies that deliberately target the weak and vulnerable. The Cottage Hospital Act Group had decided to ask all local TDs to sign a pledge of support for the nursing homes.
They also decided that they would not give speaking rights on their platform to any TD who refused to do this. This TD was pleased to pledge support. Fine Gael TDs Peter Fitzpatrick and Minister Fergus O Dowd, along with Labour TD Ged Nash refused to sign the pledge and amid shouts of anger from the crowd they were asked to leave the platform by the organising committee.
This blog would have allowed them to speak but this was not a Sinn Féin platform and the Action Group have the right to make their own decisions on this matter.
The three TDs in question should have signed the pledge.
The context for this widespread public annoyance is to be found in the events of last November, before the budget, when government Ministers deliberately leaked budget proposals, including the possibility of closures to nursing homes. This irresponsible action frightened elderly residents across the state. Suddenly none of them could be sure that their homes were safe from closure.
This was then followed by a budget, and then a HSE plan which will strip €750 million out of the health service. This is on top of the €1 billion already cut by Fianna Fáil in the previous budget. The government target is to get rid of up to 900 beds in public nursing homes. This is at a time when our elderly population is increasing and the demand is growing. Up to 10 nursing homes might close.
The Minister for Health James Reilly excuses his actions by claiming that he wants to keep more elderly citizens in the community. But then he sets as one of his goals the reduction of the home help service by half a million hours this year. A complete contradiction!
Last week in the Dáil this blog asked the Taoiseach to spell out his plans for nursing homes. I asked him to tell staff and residents whether he plans to cut their services; their jobs, their homes. He refused to do so. He did agree to hold a debate on health but that will be small comfort to residents of nursing homes.
Last Thursday morning a meeting was held involving local government TDs and the Minister. When I contacted the Ministers office and asked to attend I was refused. This runs against the normal protocol for such events and was a disgraceful decision by the Minister of a government which claims to be for greater openness and transparency and accountability.
Residents and staff need clarity and certainty, not waffle and spin. The government has a responsibility to speak plainly and provide real and proper information on its plans for public nursing homes.
This is no way to treat our elderly citizens. It is no way to treat committed staffs.
This blog believes that citizens have rights. The right to a job, to a home, to access to education and a health service that provides a wrap-around professional service from the cradle to the grave.
Society has a responsibility to look after citizens and especially those who are vulnerable or aged or ill. And government policy should reflect these core values.
Regrettably this governments core values, like the previous one, is motivated by profit and cutting public services.
It is not right that nursing homes and beds are to be cut to pay off the debts of the big bankers and developers. Next Wednesday Anglo Irish Bank will hand over €1.25 billion of taxpayers money to unguaranteed unsecured bondholders.
The government is under no moral or ethical or legal obligation to do this. That money could cover the cost of providing a first class nursing care service. A month later the government will hand over another €3.1 billion to the European Central Bank to pay off the debt of Anglo-Irish a criminal toxic bank.
Imagine how many nursing beds and emergency departments and schools that would pay for.
The truth is that the austerity policies which Fine Gael and Labour are wedded to are not working. Worse they are adding to the mess created by the previous government.
The evidence is all around us – mass emigration; mounting job losses; a health service on the rack - and one government decision after another imposing cuts on public services.
Recently, the government was forced to retreat on two issues – cuts to DEIS schools and funding for young people with disabilities. It u-turned on these issues because public support for the schools and young people and against
This government was forced to retreat on DEIS schools and on cutting support for young people with disabilities because of the level of public support for the schools and young people and opposition to government policy.
That is the lesson we must learn. If we are to stop the cuts to public nursing homes; if we are to protect the future of the Cottage Hospital and of St. Josephs in Ardee and any others that might be threatened, then we need to make our voices heard.
Next Saturday St. Josephs is holding a public rally. Regrettably I can’t be there because of a long standing commitment to be in Derry however I would urge everyone who appreciates the work of nursing home staffs and is concerned at the treatment of elderly citizens to come along on Saturday and show your support for St. Josephs.