Seanad debates

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Hospice Services

2:30 pm

Photo of Micheál CarrigyMicheál Carrigy (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

The Minister of State is very welcome to the Chamber. There is just one hospice bed for the whole of County Longford. I am raising this matter on behalf of all the people in our county and all the families who have been affected. I compliment Longford Hospice Homecare, a voluntary organisation that has been operating throughout my lifetime. People have done tremendous work in volunteering their time and fundraising for hospices. I also compliment the fantastic hospice nurses on the job they do.

I raised this issue on the Order of Business in March, May and, most recently, October. In 2019, I, a number of my colleagues and members of the Longford hospice met the then Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, at St. Joseph's care centre. We received agreement that two beds would be incorporated into the €5 million redevelopment plans being proposed at the time and which are being followed through. However, the HSE has not been prepared to follow through on that agreement. According to the most recent correspondence I received from the HSE, which can only be described as outrageous, it is now putting a price on providing an extra palliative bed. It is putting a cost on people and families who just want their loved ones close to them before they pass away.I would like to read a couple of sentences from the letter I received a number of months ago. It states:

Any decision to re-designate one or more beds in St Joseph's, Longford will have to be made by the HSE at national level. The decision to re-designate any beds in St Joseph's Care Centre will reduce the number of beds available to clients requiring the level of care provided by long stay units. Such a decision will also have a financial impact on the unit, reducing the income to the unit through the Fair Deal scheme and increasing the cost of care.

Any commitment to increasing the number of Palliative Care Support Beds at the expense of a long stay bed would have to be accompanied by an appropriate budget allocation to compensate for the fair deal income reduction in order to maintain services for the current and future residents in St Joseph's Care Centre.

That is a ridiculous reply, to be honest. However, it is the reply that was given, through me, to a voluntary committee that has fundraised hundreds of thousands of euro over the past number of years. The bed occupancy rate since 1 January is 85%.

I will now outline some of the figures relating to deaths in Longford. There were a total of 92 deaths, 60 of which occurred at home, seven in the level 2 bed in St. Joseph's and the remaining 25 deaths occurred in nursing homes and acute hospital settings. In 2021, 11 patients were placed on a waiting list for level 2 beds in Longford, but were unable to avail of them. Four patients received beds in Athlone, three were discharged from hospital to home and four died in nursing home and acute hospital settings. The number of hospital palliative care home visits in Longford is much higher than in any other county. The number of deaths in the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, is higher than in other hospitals. Many of these patients at end-of-life have no other choice but to die in an acute hospital. This is not acceptable and cannot continue.

The availability of a second bed in Longford would allow hospital discharges for people who do not wish to die in the Midland Regional Hospital and who want to be closer to home. Unfortunately, clinical nurse specialists need to hold the bed vacant to ensure that a particular patient with the highest level of need can access it. The availability of a second bed in Longford would mean this would not happen. It would also allow for respite for the families who need that extra support and the opportunity of having a break while looking after a loved one. In Westmeath, there are seven palliative care beds, which includes two community beds in Mullingar, for a population of 80,000. In Longford, we have one bed and a population of 40,000. The following is the Longford Hospice Homecare mission statement: "To provide appropriate physical, emotional and spiritual support to palliative care patients and their families enabling them to manage life-limiting illness and bereavement with fortitude and dignity."

I appeal to the Minister of State and the Department of Health to meet with this committee locally, reverse the decision in question immediately and make sure that we have that second bed for families in County Longford.


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