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 Header Item Mental Health Services Provision (Continued)
 Header Item Carer's Allowance Eligibility

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White] The group consists of a cross-section of senior local mental health services personnel, as well as patient representatives. The HSE will also be liaising with the residents and their families as part of the process. The measures on how best to address the fire and safety issues are being discussed at a meeting of the steering group scheduled to take place today to progress the matter in a controlled and safe manner. The steering group is also considering the relocation of the current residents to the most appropriate clinical settings according to their individual needs while the safety issues are addressed.

Toghermore House remains operational during this process but has ceased any new admissions since last Monday. It is also important to stress, however, that all other mental health services in the Toghermore complex to which Deputy Kitt referred and which include the day hospital, the day centre, the training centre workshop, primary care and child and adolescent mental health services will continue to operate as normal. The Minister of State with responsibility for disability, equality and mental health asked that she and the Department be kept informed of developments in respect of Toghermore House arising from the steering group's findings. Obviously, the situation is somewhat fluid but I hope this at least provides some clarification on the issue.

Deputy Michael P. Kitt: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I thank the Minister of State for his reply. He concluded his reply by saying that the situation is fluid and I certainly hope so. I understand that report is just in. If it is a question of the fire doors, and fire safety was mentioned by the Minister of State, I hope he would agree with me that it make more economic sense to carry out those necessary repairs and deal with fire safety issues rather than move people who are very used to that area out of Toghermore House to a centre that does not exist in the sense that it is true to say that the HSE would not have places available at short notice for the 18 people involved.

The Minister of State mentioned that new admissions ceased since last Monday. Again, it is disappointing when he talks about Toghermore House remaining operational. We pay rent in many cases in the HSE west area but pay no rent in Tuam because we have an excellent centre donated by the late Senator Bobby Burke which has meant so much to the community of Tuam. The staff told me that this centre prevents admission to hospital, leads to shorter hospital stays and, in particular, removes any stigma of mental illness. If this is true, it is well worth looking at and I hope the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, equality and mental health would take an interest in this. She opened part of that facility a year ago and unveiled a plaque to commemorate the development of a new integrated mental health campus at Toghermore so it would be very disappointing if we now say we cannot continue with the residential centre there. When she visited Toghermore on that day in the autumn of 2011, the Minister of State promoted A Vision for Change, which she has endorsed very strongly, and spoke positively about her commitment to a patient-centred service. I hope the Minister of State gives my views to her and we can hold on to the residential centre for the sake of the 18 people. This is coming up to Christmas and removing these people to another centre will be very harsh. I am sure the Minister of State will agree with me.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White The Deputy makes the case very well. There is no doubt that it is extremely upsetting for people, particularly at this time of the year, when they are discommoded when an event like this occurs and there is a requirement for them to be moved out of a facility with which they are familiar. If that could be avoided, I am sure it would be. I am sure the Deputy will agree that the HSE and those involved must balance the risk of upsetting and discommoding people against the important requirement to ensure the safety of people where a risk is identified and needs to be assessed and acted upon if it is found to be real. There is a balancing exercise involved.

I cannot say any more than what I have said by way of reply to the Deputy. I was not aware of the background or historical significance of the house and how it had been donated by the former Labour Senator Bobby Burke. I am quite sure the facility is as fine as described by Deputy Kitt, with services such as primary care, in which I am very interested and of which I am supportive, as indeed is the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, equality and mental health and the rest of the Government. I will conclude by reiterating that the situation is somewhat fluid. The meeting to which I referred was held today and I am sure the right decision will be made in the circumstances.

Carer's Allowance Eligibility

Deputy Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash As the Minister of State is aware, it can cost up to €2,000 per week to provide care to an older person in a residential nursing home in the public sector. It costs the State about €200 per week for a carer, who is, more often than not, an immediate relative, to provide around-the-clock care for a parent, aunt or uncle in his or her home through the provision of the carer's allowance. This State officially denies that basic level of support to emigrants who return home in a parent's time of need to look after the people who took care of them when they were growing up. Many returning emigrants, because they do not satisfy the Department's habitual residency clause, are not officially entitled to receive any recognition or financial support from the State to provide the care they feel duty bound to undertake. The Minister of State is aware that they do not qualify for a carer's payment if they have not been resident in the State in the previous two years. The local community welfare officer also appears to be prevented from providing any support to help a family make ends meet and to recognise the role of the carer under such circumstances.

The habitual residency clause, as the House will be aware, was introduced for very good reasons in May 2004. Nobody wants to see opportunistic exploitation of the social welfare system. This week, I came across the case of a woman who does not meet the habitual residency requirements and who is returning to Drogheda to look after her mother who is awaiting an organ transplant. This demands a review of this system and that we insist on a process that takes into account the reality of life and the need for the social protection system to respond in a humane manner that respects the dignity of the carer and the people for whom care is provided. We should identify a better way. There may be no more than 100 such people and perhaps even fewer who experience this issue in any given year. At a small cost, we could and should provide urgent assistance to families who most need help in a time of crisis and emotional strain. Where specific sets of circumstances apply and where the returning emigrant is in some cases the carer of last resort for an ill or infirm relative, I urge the Department to take a less dogmatic and more sympathetic view of the plight of carers who are emigrants returning to care for an aged, ill or infirm relative.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O'Sullivan): Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I thank Deputy Nash for raising this issue which, as he noted, affects a relatively small number of people but is very important. I am taking it on behalf of the Minister for Social Protection who is in the Seanad. The Department of Social Protection is committed to delivering the best possible service to its customers and continuously strives to achieve the highest standard of customer service possible. Carer's allowance is a means-tested income support payment to people providing full-time care to a person who needs that care because of age, physical or learning disability or illness, including mental illness.

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