‘My two wishes are to outlive Sinead, and find someone who’ll care for her and be her voice'

Mary McDonnell, 79, and her daughter Sinead, 54, at their home in Calderwood, Douglas, Co Cork.

Sinead has cerebral palsy and Mary provides 24/7 care. Mary gets a half carer’s allowance of €122 per week. She says respite care lost in 2015 has not been adequately replaced.

The main support group for family carers has warned that the country’s ageing profile will result in a dearth of carers in the future, even as current carers are struggling with a lack of services and resources.

Family Carers Ireland said the Irish Health Survey found significant under- reporting of carers in the census. It said 10% of the population are providing care to someone with a chronic condition or an age-related infirmity. That would mean Ireland has 350,000 carers. In 86% of these cases, the person being cared for is a family member and the average number of hours spent providing care is 45 per week.

Family Carers Ireland said this is saving the State €10bn each year, yet fewer than one in three family carers receive the carer’s allowance due to means-testing and lack of self-identification.

One carer, 79-year-old Mary McDonnell, who features in today’s Irish Examiner, said the respite care she lost in December 2015 has never been adequately replaced. The services she availed of for her daughter Sinead ceased following a Hiqa report.

A HSE spokesperson said the family receives respite services several times a year, from two agencies.

“We absolutely recognise the importance of respite, and we are happy to attend a meeting with the family in relation to care needs,” said the spokesperson. “As respite is not currently provided through Cheshire respite services, the [community healthcare organisation] has worked to ensure that families have their respite needs met, but this process has not been perfect and we are still working to resolve the issue.”

Catherine Cox of Family Carers Ireland said: “Recent times have seen Hiqa inspections resulting in respite centres closing down, as they are ‘not fit for purpose’, but no alternatives being offered to families using these vital services. While we welcome quality standards of care, we cannot stand by when no alternative solutions are being provided for these families.

“The broader context is that, in the last five years, we have seen cuts to vital supports and services to family carers, including a reduction of €11m in the homecare budget, despite a 25% increase in the older person population.

“By 2031, there will be 1m people over the age of 65 and 137,000 of those over 85. People are living longer, but with that comes additional care needs — family carers must be supported.”

Special Report: 6&7

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