Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 March 2010

2:00 pm

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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I refer to St. Mary's day care centre in Mullingar because so many elderly people and their families have contacted me about it. Some 245 elderly people use this well respected and loved day care service which covers a large area of County Westmeath, including Streamstown, Castletown Geoghegan, Horseleap, Clonmellon, Dalystown and Mullingar.

The service provided in this homely and warm day care centre is second to none. Some of the services provided are essential to the well-being of our elderly folk. For instance, service users have a warm dinner when they arrive. There is much social interaction, which is so important when one is older. Some of the ladies told me they would not see anyone from one end of the week to the other if they could not avail of this service. Some of them have been using it for up to ten years. They avail of services such as chiropody and hairdressing, as everyone needs to have his or her hair done. It is a great facility. On personal hygiene, some older people are unable to get in and out of the bath; therefore, they avail of nursing care. Others play bingo and look forward to going to the centre perhaps one or two days each week to meet their friends. When people work all their lives - we are extending the length of time one must work - it is important they have something to look forward to and a place to go to that is warm and safe to meet their friends.

When I spoke to the HSE manager, I was told the reason there was a concern about the day care centre was that a nurse was retiring and there was a HSE embargo on staff recruitment. It is extraordinary that because someone is retiring, 245 people will be deprived of this essential and worthy service. Therefore, staff and service user morale is at an all time low. People who have worked all their lives and laid the ground for the Celtic tiger, the benefits of which have been wasted, deserve quality of life in their remaining years. I am curious to know how the Minister of State will respond. An insecure agency nursing service is not acceptable. The embargo must be lifted and a full-time staff member appointed to the service to ensure it is maintained.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State with special responsibility for Integration and Community, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I thank the Senator for raising the issue and welcome the opportunity to update the House on Government policy on community services in general.

The Government is committed to supporting people to live in dignity and independence in their homes and communities for as long as possible. Where this is not feasible, the health service supports access to quality long-term residential care where this is appropriate. We are continuing to develop and improve health services in all regions and to ensure quality and patient safety.

A key element of Government policy is the provision of community services such as home help, home care packages and day care. In the Health Service Executive national service plan for 2010, approved by the Minister for Health and Children earlier this year, the HSE has undertaken to provide almost 12 million home help hours for 54,500 people, more than 5,000 home care packages for more than 9,500 people and 21,300 day care places which we estimate will cater for up to 80,000 people. Between 2006 and 2010, an additional sum of more than €200 million was provided by the Government for the HSE to increase these services to enable older people to remain at home and in their communities.

The Health Service Executive has operational responsibility for the delivery of health and social services, including those at facilities such as St. Mary's day care centre in Mullingar. The Senator will appreciate that all developments have to be addressed in the light of current economic and budgetary pressures. The Health Service Executive has been asked to make a rigorous examination of how existing funding could be reconfigured or reallocated to ensure maximum service provision is achieved. This will require a stringent ongoing review of the application of the resources available.

Unfortunately, owing to the current industrial action, the Minister did not have information to hand on the specific issue regarding St. Mary's day care centre, Mullingar.

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State's response is unacceptable and raises again the issue of responsibility and accountability. On the Order of Business this morning Senators described the Health Service Executive as being a law unto itself and asked where the buck stopped and who was responsible for it. Is the Minister running the health service? I am not satisfied with the reply. It is an outrage and insult to me and those who use the services of St. Mary's day care centre that the Minister was unable to obtain the information sought owing to industrial action. I am sorry that, unlike other Senators, I did not call for the Minister to resign this morning because I did not want to personalise the issue. The reply provided is trite, inconsiderate and insensitive. I am sorry for shooting the messenger.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State with special responsibility for Integration and Community, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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I accept the Senator's point regarding the reply, in particular, the allusion by the Minister to industrial action. I will try to elicit further information on the Senator's behalf.

The Seanad adjourned at 2.25 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 23 March 2010.