It’s time to support the forgotten frontline


It can be difficult to see how the seemingly distant jobs of government affect our daily lives. A word like “legislation”, for example, evokes an image of something distant, formal and legalistic, but its significance is felt in the very grain of our daily experience.

We have seen it, time and time again, as the pandemic exposed or underscored the flaws in government policy. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the care sector, where families are on the verge of breakdown due to a lack of access to respite care.

Yesterday, Family Carers Ireland launched its annual dashboard, stressing that “much more needs to be done to support family carers”.

Of the 18 commitments to caregivers in the government’s program, none have been met. On this count, the government scored a big zero.

Although there was progress in six areas, most received a score of “no progress” or “regressive”.

These words are damning, but it’s easy to get used to the contents of a report. Instead, it’s vital to link government failures to the hardships they cause in the lives of real people. Caregivers explained how the lack of access to respite exhausted them mentally and physically.

Earlier this week, some of them spoke on RTÉ radio to describe what it looked like. Caregiver Sinead Tighe spoke of her need to “work tirelessly on emails” to get relief.

“You are highlighting your situation and trying to show the extreme seriousness of being at home,” she said. “Getting slapped, hit, head butted – you need a break.”

Caregivers should not have to advocate for services. Family Carers Ireland has already shown that the country’s 500,000 caregivers save the state around € 20 billion, but it’s more than money; it is about providing basic health care to our fellow citizens.

Marion O’Sullivan, Cork, who cares for her brother Stephen, said he regressed during the lockdown, losing skills such as the ability to tell the time and dress.

Others say that, without basic support, they will be forced to place their relatives in institutions and ask the state to grant 20 days of respite per year to caregivers, in the same way that other workers are entitled to annual leaves.

It is a reasonable request. The Minister of State for Disability, Anne Rabbitte, openly acknowledged this, while admitting that constant access to services and respite was not good before the pandemic. Respite is her priority, she said.

The minister has been sympathetic and outspoken, even though she has her work cut out for her to achieve anything in a health care system that continues to resist change.

Separately, the Health Information and Quality Authority called yesterday for immediate reform and regulation of home care services in Ireland. The watchdog said he wanted to provide the “right care, in the right place, at the right time”, a vision in line with Sláintecare – although this reform agenda is still a long way from being implemented.

Whatever path it takes, it must put those affected at the center of its concerns.


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