News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 3rd April 2015

Ireland’s older people should not have to pay more for “fair deal” health care,

Says Age Action


Government considers raising contribution under Fair Deal nursing home scheme

An unpublished Department of Health review lists a number of options for improving the funding of the Fair Deal scheme, including increasing the State contribution or making those in nursing homes pay more

Groups representing older people say they will oppose any attempt to increase the financial contribution by users of the Fair Deal nursing home scheme.

Age Action said the scheme was already fundamentally unfair, as no other section of society had to pay from their income, assets and home value towards their care.

It was responding to proposals by the Department of Health that could see applicants for Fair Deal having to pay more towards their care.

An unpublished review lists a number of options for improving the funding of the scheme, including increasing the State contribution or making those in nursing homes pay more.

Under one option, the level of assets discounted in the means test (€36,000) could be reduced, RTÉ’s Prime Timereported. Alternatively, the cap on the assets to be contributed could increase from 7.5%  to 10%.

It is also suggested older people should contribute to community services through a charge on their estate after they die.

Age Action head of advocacy Eamon Timmins said the scheme already causes hardship for older people. “The range of increased charges proposed by the document suggests a lack of understanding of the inequity of the scheme and that a belief that this inequity can be increased further – that older people who are sick and frail are a resource to be tapped time and again,” he said.

Alone chief executive Sean Moynihan said Fair Deal was not looking “particularly fair any more”. Asking older people to pay more was the easy way compared to reforming the system.

Increasing people’s contribution to the scheme could lead to cases of elder abuse, he warned. “Lifting the cap will result in a larger contribution being taken from the older person’s estate when they die. This could result in some families being less likely to put older relatives into nursing home care when they need it.”

State sets 70 as targeted maximum on trolleys


Fund of extra €74m to be allocated to hospital overcrowding and trolley crisis.

The Government has set new targets for hospitals to limit the number of patients who have to wait for lengthy periods on trolleys.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said that by this winter there should be no more than 70 people at any one time waiting on trolleys for more than nine hours in hospitals.

He said the target formed part of a new initiative to tackle emergency department overcrowding. The Government is to provide €74 million in additional funding to deal with the hospital overcrowding and trolley crisis which has worsened in recent months.

As part of the initiative, €44 million is to be allocated to the Fair Deal nursing home scheme. The Minister said this would provide an additional 1,600 nursing home places and reduce the waiting time for approved applicants from 11 weeks to four weeks.

In addition, €30 million is to be earmarked to cover the cost of additional temporary contract beds until June and for more permanent community, convalescence and district hospital beds.

The measures are aimed at facilitating the discharge of patients who have completed their acute hospital care – so-called delayed discharge patients.

Mr Varadkar said overcrowding had eased since January but it remained higher than at this point last year. He also said while the number of delayed discharges had fallen from a peak of 850, the figure remained at over 700.

Nursing homes

“For these reasons, it is necessary to take additional action to provide more nursing home placements to free up acute hospital beds and make more community, convalescence and district hospital beds available.” He said the measures would take about eight weeks to be fully implemented.

“Reducing the level of delayed discharges and the wait for Fair Deal places in a meaningful way will improve significantly the situation in many hospitals.”

The announcement of the additional funding was made as the emergency department taskforce plan was published.

The plan produced by the taskforce includes measures to reduce delayed discharges and lengths of stay, in line with agreed Health Service Executive national service plan targets. It also includes measures to develop and extend access routes to urgent care; ensure integrated discharge planning; improve chronic disease management, and ensure effective leadership and oversight in hospitals.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association said the actions “did not go far enough to deal properly with the unacceptable delays for patients”.

Figures boost for Irish Government Coalition amid concerns for under funded hospitals



With just a year to go to a general election, all is going swimmingly well for the Government, at least on the economic front, 

Every economic data release continues to move in the right direction, which will, in theory, make life more difficult for the opposition over the coming year if they adopt the approach of attacking the Government’s economic competency. Many commentators and opposition politicians have expounded the view over recent years that the economy would never recover and that fiscal austerity would destroy us forever.

This is proving not to be the case and, despite the savage fiscal adjustment since 2008, consumer and business confidence levels are climbing steadily and a more solid and broad-based recovery is taking hold.

This is not to suggest that all is perfect. On the contrary, many of our important public services are creaking at the edges and are, at best, sub-standard. It has to be hoped that, as the economy gets better, the resources devoted to vital public services will increase and the efficiency of public service delivery will be addressed.

It has been proven in the past that merely throwing resources at public services does not necessarily improve their quality. But if people were to see an improvement in the quality of health, education, law and order, and public infrastructure, then the recovery would start to feel more real and the political dividend must just flow to those responsible.

Of all the economic indicators we track, the labour market is by far the most important. For every person who comes off the live register and moves into employment, the State saves €21,000. For individuals struggling with debt, attaining a meaningful job can make a significant difference, both mentally and financially.

In this context, the news continues to get better. In March, the number of people on the live register, which is not a measure of unemployment but is a good indicator of the health of the labour market, fell to 348,700, which means it has declined 42,556 over the past year and by 76,400 over the past two years.

The unemployment rate has fallen to 10% of the labour market, down from over 15% three years ago. Despite what the cynics might suggest, this is an impressive labour market performance and does suggest that the economic policy approach is working. For some, that is a bitter pill to swallow.

For Government and other policy-makers, it is essential that efforts continue to be directed at further improving labour market conditions. In this context, recent utterances from the trade union side give cause for concern.

The notion that we would start to increase public sector pay in an environment where the Exchequer is taking in over €6bn less than it collects in revenue makes no sense. On the private sector front, allowing wages to creep back up at a time when the recovery is still trying to gain traction would not be advisable but would just undermine competitiveness and further press the already pressed small business sector.

If Government is going to ramp up spending, it should direct it at capital projects rather than public sector pay; and it should also adjust personal taxation to put money back in the pockets of the squeezed private sector. Economically, it would be much more advantageous to help people through a cut in the direct tax burden rather than through wage increases.

The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (IFAC) is arguing for some leeway from the EU to facilitate higher capital expenditure, which echoes a call last week from the International Monetary Fund. This makes a lot of sense. The IFAC is less enthusiastic about tax cuts, which also echoes recent advice from the ESRI.

As I wrote last week, while such advice makes perfect economic sense, it fails to recognise the political realities facing Government over the coming year. Tax cuts would be far preferable to wage increases. The reality is this is what the choice will be. The hope is that workers will be less anxious to push for wage increases if there is a pledge to gradually reduce the tax burden. Perhaps that is too much to hope for and maybe I think I live in Utopia.

Spirits roused by music and hula-hoops for Dunne’s Stores strikers in Galway


Public expresses sympathy at several city branches

Tánaiste Joan Burton meets striking Dunne’s Stores workers and union representatives on the picket line at Henry Street in Dublin.

Music, hula-hooping and beeping horns roused strikers’ spirits at several Dunnes Stores outlets in Galway today.

Small numbers of shoppers and Dunne’s Stores staff had passed pickets by lunchtime.

“We’ve had great support from the public, and our only problem is the number of young staff who decided to show up for work – when we are doing this for them,” Mandate union member Margaret Kelly said outside the Dunne’s Stores branch at Westside.

Ms. Kelly, who has worked with the company for 14 years, said her contract was “one of the better ones”.

“So it’s sad to see some people leaving the union to show up for work, and I can only think it’s because they are frightened of losing hours altogether,” she said.

She described how her daughter, who works at another branch, had found herself the only member of her section supporting strike action earlier on Thursday morning.

“We aren’t looking for more money, but for some decent working conditions,”Ms. Kelly said.

“We are doing this for our grandchildren, but some staff just don’t seem to understand that,”she added.

“The management put up rosters on Tuesday, but can change those by Wednesday and say it is because of ‘budgets’, “she said.

“Your wages can vary from €450 a week to €150 a week, depending on one manager, “she said, adding that she feared her hours would be cut next week because of her action.

Outside Westside, rock-trad band Cúla Búla played some jigs and reels in support of the Mandate members, as part of their grand tour of six Dunne’s Stores branches in Galway. Their “support” was Shazzy, the hula-hooping performance artist.

The band said they had taken a break from working on their first studio-recorded album, which is due out in a few weeks.

“Car drivers have been beeping their horns, people expressing their support, and it’s been really effective so far, “band member Will O’Brien said. “This is one of Ireland’s biggest corporations, and it seems shocking that it would refuse to negotiate with staff.”

Former city mayor and Independent councillor Catherine Connolly visited each of the Galway branches to voice her support. “It’s interesting, and heartening, to see that the majority of strikers are women – leading the way,”she said.

In Knocknacarra, one of Galway’s largest suburbs, a half-empty carpark at 2pm on one of the busiest shopping days of the season reflected the level of public support.

“I had no idea things were so bad – but you’d wonder about how other shopping chains are treating their staff,” said Pat Butler, a local resident collecting a prescription in a nearby chemist.

Eating more eggs and dairy could cut the risk of diabetes


Eating more eggs and dairy could reduce the risk of diabetes, according to new research from two Nordic countries.

In a study from the University of Eastern Finland looking at the dietary habits of more than 2,332 men, those who ate around four eggs per week were found to have a 37% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those who only ate one a week.

The men, aged between 42 and 60, took part in a study from 1984 to1989 and found that following up just under 20 years later, 432 men were diagnosed with the disease.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, said that eggs contained many nutrients that could affect glucose metabolism and low-grade inflammation.

However eating more than four eggs was not found to bring any significant additional benefits.

Type 2 Diabetes is becoming increasingly widespread throughout the world, with research showing that lifestyle habits, such as exercise and nutrition play a crucial role in the development of the disease.

Jyrki Virtanen, adjunct professor of nutritional epidemiology a the University of Eastern Finland, said there had been little previous scientific evidence either way on eggs and diabetes risk.

As a result, the new findings underlined the problem with demonising single dietary ingredients.

He said: “A possible explanation is that unlike in many other populations, egg consumption in Finland is not strongly associated with unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking, low physical activity or consumption of processed meats.”

“The study also suggests that the overall health effects of foods are difficult to anticipate based on an individual nutrient such as cholesterol alone.”

Meanwhile, a second study from Lund University in Sweden found that eating high fat cheese and yoghurt lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes by a quarter, but high fat meat increased the risk.

Scientists examined the eating habits of 27,000 people aged 45 to 74 in the early 1990s, and found 2,860 people were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 20 years later.

Dr Ulrika Ericson said: “When we investigated the consumption of saturated fatty acids that are slightly more common in dairy products than in meat, we observed a link with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

“However, we have not ruled out the possibility that other components of dairy products such as yogurt and cheese may have contributed to our results.

“Moreover, different food components can interact with each other. For example, in one study, saturated fat in cheese appeared to have less of a cholesterol-raising effect than saturated fat in butter.

“Our results suggest that we should not focus solely on fat, but rather consider what foods we eat. Many foodstuffs contain different components that are harmful or beneficial to health, and it is the overall balance that is important.”

Astronauts could land on Mars by year 2039



A new report has revealed that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) could send humans to Mars within next 15-25 years.

The space agency’s Mars mission could reach orbit by 2030, and it is possible that a team of astronauts will be waking on the red planet by 2039.

The Planetary Society, a nonprofit organization involved in research and engineering projects related to astronomy, recently held a workshop to discuss strategies for sending humans to Mars.

The goal of the Humans Orbiting Mars workshop was to gather expert science, engineering, and policy professionals to build a consensus on the key elements of a long-term, cost constrained, executable program to send humans to Mars.

At the workshop, a credible plan for a long-term Humans to Mars program that constrains costs by minimizing new developments was presented.

An orbital mission in 2033 is required for a sustainable, executable, and successful Humans to Mars program. The mission will enable scientific exploration of Mars and its moons while developing essential experience in human travel from Earth to the Mars system.

“Getting humans to Mars is far more complex than getting to Earth’s Moon,” Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye said. “But space exploration brings out the best in us. By reaching consensus on the right set of missions, we can send humans to Mars without breaking the bank.”

The Planetary Society noted that an independent cost estimate showed that NASA could launch such a mission with costs falling within its budget.

“We believe we now have an example of a long term, cost constrained, and executable humans to Mars program,” said Professor Scott Hubbard, workshop chair and Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Stanford University. “This workshop was an important step in community-building among the many groups interested in Mars science and exploration.”


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