By Louise Walsh
An exhausted full-time carer who hasn't had a break in over two years may cancel her first holiday, bought as a present from her family because there is no respite centre in the Republic available to take her husband.
The only respite care available to take Kevin Murtagh (70) was in Co. Down in Northern Ireland as his wife Marie says she was told she could wait up to two years for a place anywhere in the 26 counties.
That statistic mirrors waiting times in Meath alone, where 70 adults with a disability are currently facing a massive delay of between three and four years for a respite place
Meantime, 30 children in the county on a waiting list face up to a year before they can access a place, according to figures obtained by local Sinn Fein Deputy Peadar Toibin
Marie (69) from St Patrick's Terrace, Navan, Co. Meath has been looking after her husband since he suffered head and other injuries in a car accident two years ago.
Ironically, he had bought the car to celebrate winning a battle against throat cancer when the crash occurred, resulting in him undergoing a tracheostomy.
Marie is now his sole carer and one of the few, she was told, that knows how to use a suction machine to clear her husband's throat.
She had been looking forward to her first holiday and break in two years, which her daughters had bought her as a present but now that looks to be all scrapped unless she can get some kind of help before the flight on Saturday, September 22.
"Kevin went through 37 chemo and radium treatments three years ago after finding a lump on his throat and to celebrate he decided to get a car again," she explained.
"He was only in it ten minutes before he crashed and was treated in the Beaumont Hospital for bad head injuries. It was at that time that he received a tracheostomy.
"He can't eat, he has to be peg fed and he can't swallow his own saliva, hence I have to use a suction machine a number of times a day.
"We were told that there are no respite places available with staff who are qualified to use the machine from which tubing is placed down his through to extract all the stuff that he can't swallow or spit out.
"There's also an inner tube and outer tube for his food that only we can insert if it dislodges.
"My children help out as much as they can but they have their own families to look after. If I go anywhere, he's looking for me straight away."
The only help Marie says she receives is from Comfort Keepers who come and wash her husband daily and a nurse who calls once a fortnight to check the feeding bag in his stomach.
And just as she was preparing this week to go on holiday to Lanzarote, her hopes were dashed again.
"My daughters bought me the holiday for my birthday in August and we started looking for respite then. There was talk of respite in Co. Down - which I was told was the only suitable place for Kevin.
"I initially turned it down because I had no transport to bring him there but I rang back when we sourced some but was told it was no longer available.
"I was so looking forward to a break, to being me again for a short time. I'm devastated. We're trying to sort out some family care for him but it'll be tough for them all.
"Even the nurse told me once that if she had to guess, she'd think I was the patient and then, I thought I must really look wretched.
"Sometimes I take panic attacks and get flustered and then I feel so guilty because Kevin can't help his injuries. I once caught him trying to insert the tube himself using a mirror, in an effort to take the pressure off me.
"Neither of us have any kind of life anymore. It's like a vicious circle that we can't get out of."
Local Sinn Fein Cllr Eddie Fennessy said: "What does it say about our health service when Marie is denied respite simply because there are no suitable places for patients with Kevin's condition.
Deputy Peadar Toibin said: "It's cruel that the waiting times for adult respite services in Meath alone is up to four years.
"We are talking about carers who do sterling work out of love and sacrifice for their family. Looking after someone 24/7 can have a fierce toll on their own physical and mental health."
The HSE had not responded to a press query by time of going to press but in a parliamentary question to Deputy Toibin, the Community Health Organisation said:
"The HSE recognises the need for additional respite provision across the Midlands/Louth/Meath Community Health Organisation and in that regard is actively working to increase provision of same."
The noted that a number of services in the area were currently being developed and that €2.7m in funding was being sought for a new residential respite and a new community respite services in Meath as well as developing home sharing models.