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Saturday 18 August 2018

Andrew Lynch: Trying to make cash from care has wiped out our most basic human values

Has it really come to this? Is Ireland now so morally bankrupt that we cannot even afford to keep our old people warm and give them a decent meal? The latest nursing home scandals are so shocking that it would be nice to believe they are not true -- but as we've all learned to our cost in recent years, terrible crimes can be committed when authorities are blinded to common decency by the giant euro signs in their eyes.

It sounds like something from a Charles Dickens novel, but in fact the HIQA inspection of Creevelea Nursing Home in Laytown took place earlier this year.

According to the health body's representative in an ongoing court case, the bedrooms were so cold that residents were in serious danger of getting hypothermia. The only fresh food in the kitchen was a turnip and a bag of potatoes, without a scrap of meat to be found.

There was no record of when a 93-year-old woman had last eaten, while a 66-year-old man with diabetes was not being monitored properly. Two of the four fuse boards did not meet electrical safety standards and there had been 19 cases of residents falling in the last six weeks. After one of three recent break-ins, a hacksaw had been found outside the home.

If this was just an isolated case, it might be easier to understand. Unfortunately, we have heard too many horror stories from Irish nursing homes in recent years to let ourselves off the hook so easily.

It seems that when people get past a certain age, the State is happy to adopt an "out of sight, out of mind" approach -- and even though we all want to grow old with dignity, we still have to be shamed into actually doing something to clean up the system.

Within the last few weeks alone, we have seen Rostrevor House in Rathgar effectively shut down after allegations that one care assistant had been beating residents and another sexually abusing others.

A chilling Primetime documentary showed the barbaric treatment of people suffering from intellectual disabilities, with parents terrified to put their children into care because they cannot be sure they will ever see them again. Another programme illustrated in heartbreaking detail how family carers have seen their lives destroyed by recent cutbacks, slashing their State support in order to save a relatively tiny amount of money.

As with so many scandals, it all comes down to the bottom line. During Mary Harney's six-year reign, healthcare came to be seen as just another business with patients treated like consumers and doctors trained to read balance sheets as well as give injections.

Of course any health system must deliver value for money -- but if elderly people are left dying of cold and hunger, then we really have created a society in which we know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

JP McManus, Dermot Desmond, John Magnier and Denis Brosnan are four of the biggest names in the Irish business world. No doubt they are very unhappy that a British hospital for people with learning disabilities, in which they all have a stake, is to be closed down over a BBC documentary that claims some of its most vulnerable patients were abused by staff.

The stories of residents being pinned down, doused in water and verbally abused sound depressingly familiar to what has been going in this country -- and yet again, we might never have heard about it but for the actions of a brave whistleblower.

We have all watched films like Angela's Ashes and thought, "Thank God Ireland isn't like that any more." Only last year, however, the St Vincent de Paul reported that it had found a couple of five-year-old kids scavenging for food in bins.

The country may feel broke right now, but we are still not exactly a third world nation -- and there is no excuse for allowing the recession to wipe out our most basic human values.

Healthcare for profit has turned out to be a disastrous experiment. It's time for the system to go back to basics -- and an official apology to the people who have suffered from Mary Harney's heartless philosophy would not go amiss either.

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