It came as an innocuous-looking letter in the post last week, but for one elderly North Kilkenny man, the correspondence heralded very bad news.
The man, in his eighties, who wishes to remain anonymous, lives on his own near Clogh. He received a letter from the HSE informing him that from August 20, his home help service would be cut to just 2.5 hours per week, with the weekend service discontinued entirely. Another elderly person, living in Coon, got a similar letter the same day. They are not alone.
It came the same week that every public health nurse in the Carlow/Kilkenny district received a notice informing them that, due to reductions in staff numbers, certain patients would have to be prioritised.
The service is stretched beyond its limits, as the remaining healthcare workers struggle to cope with their increased workload. The region’s director of nursing has also put out a plea to any staff able to work any extra hours, and to cover areas beyond their own.
The latest round of cutbacks from the HSE has left many feeling vulnerable. The home help service had given the elderly men a sense of independence – they could still live in their own houses, get on with their lives. Now they face losing that.
“I think this is a very bad decision,” said local Fine Gael Councillor John Brennan, who knows both men personally.
“These are people who have worked all their lives, they are in their eighties. The service they have given to the state, working, paying taxes – they should be able to count on some standard of care now.
“A lot of people depend on this service. It could now result in them having to go to hospital or residential care – and in any case that will cost the state a lot more.”
“I would also be disappointed with how this was done – just a letter dropped in,” he said.
“They should be able to consult and tell them in person. Elderly people are getting this letter, and the distress it causes – it puts fear into these people.”
The Fine Gael councillor said he was calling on the HSE to reverse the decision. He said he had contacted Minister Phil Hogan’s office to seek full consultation with the HSE, and that there should, as a minimum, be a deferral of the cuts or an extension of time beyond August 20.
“This is the last area that should be looked at for cutbacks,” he said.
“We need to get the priorities right. It has to be challenged.”