Changes in transport arrangements to Drumlin House in Cootehill and Steadfast House in Carrickmacross will put significant financial burden on vulnerable service users. The service, free of charge up to now, will cost €4 a day.
The decision by the HSE to impose the cost has been criticised by family and carers of service users, particularly as it will not be covered by travel cards.
Letters were sent from the HSE last week informing that the transport services to the facilities in Carrickmacross and Cootehill will now incur a charge.
The letter from the HSE said that increased transport costs made it necessary to introduce a standard charge towards improving the delivery of services.
Honora Campbell, who is a carer for her sister Angela, is surprised and upset by the decision. Angela attends Steadfast house in Carrickmacross. “I got a letter in the post last Monday week to say from April 1 she will be charged €4 daily return journey, as well as €5 for her lunch,” Honora told the Celt. “There was no consultation, no notice. We were only given a week to comply.”
Bailieborough resident Angela was a service user in The Holy Family School and Drumlin House, before availing of services in Steadfast House in Carrickmacross. Honora says her sister has benefited greatly from the support. “This is the first time in 40 years of attending support services this financial burden has been placed on her. It really came out of the blue,” Honora said.
“It's like a slap in the jaw. I am her carer since my Mam passed away last year. I am now taking care of her and she depends on me for everything. She was given a €5 raise in March and now it's been taken away,” she explained.
Steadfast House Day Service provides a range of daily skills based activities including learning, training, socialisation, sport activities, horticulture and work experience for adults with an intellectual disability.
The transport cost is not the only increase Angela has to cope with. “Angela attends at the centre for five days a week. Between the €4 per day for the transport and the introduction of a €5 per day for the meal charge, Anglea has to pay out €45 per week. That is the extra cost on top of her medicines, her clothing, and the socialisation charge for her activities. It's just an added extra expense,” Honora outlined.
She has been advised not to pay the charge: “Do I pay it, or not pay it? If I don't pay it, will she be picked up, or will there be insurance implications? These are all the considerations I have to take into account.”
HSE - no choice
The HSE said that, as things stand, they shoulder most of the cost of the transportation of service users: “Currently the HSE contribute approximately 90% of total transport operating costs to enable clients to access day services across CHO 1 with the remainder being paid by passengers.”
The health authority said the charge are a response to rising costs: “Due to increasing transport costs and to enable the continued delivery of these essential services, it is necessary to introduce a standard €4 daily charge for all CHO 1 service users from April 1st, 2019. This charge will contribute to overall improvements in service delivery including increased number of routes, shorter journey times and improvement in overall quality of vehicles used.”
Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth raised the matter in the Dáil. She said the introduction of fares for transport to day services used by pensioners in Cavan-Monaghan will only increase rural isolation as many cannot afford the extra costs.
Deputy Smyth said that the transport cost increase affects many service users: “Last week I raised with the Taoiseach the abhorrent fees, which have been introduced for transport users with special needs attending day services. Since then, I have been contacted by two old age pensioner groups, which have been notified that they will also be incurred charges for transport to their day services.”
She questioned the sustainability of the charge for service users: “It is disgraceful that the most vulnerable in society have been targets for these fees, which will cost up to €1,000 per year and is not affordable. Despite all the attendees being travel card holders, this is not applicable to this bus service.”
Deputy Smith said she has demanded a rethink of the decision. “I have called on the Tánaiste have his Transport and Health Ministers knock heads together and bring about a solution to these needless costs and reverse the changes,” she concluded