No expense spared

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HOME help hours slashed. Waiting lists up. Front line staff numbers down.

Yet the health services can still foot the bill of around €52,000 a year for members of the Health Forum West to travel ridiculous distances to ask questions. That’s before adding the cost of travel and accommodation for HSE staff.

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Every two months, the Forum meets so that members can question the HSE about its practices, plans and policies. No-one would argue that the HSE should be above scrutiny.

But by what warped reasoning should the taxpayer have to foot the bill for a member to drive nearly 300 kilometers from County Limerick or West Clare to get a written answer to a written question at a time when the person paid to wash the floor for a disabled granny is having their hours cut?

Granted, those answers are up for discussion but the forum is a watchdog with no teeth – no matter what it unearths it can, of itself, effect no change.

And how much is too much to pay for travel? The AA route finder calculates the cost of fuel for a return journey between €80 and €90 depending on whether the member is travelling to Manorhamilton, the furthest venue for the meetings, from Adare or Kilbaha. Yet expenses average between €182 and €323 per Limerick member per meeting.

In the good old days, the Heath Boards met in their relevent areas, elected representatives asked questions, got answers and what’s more, could vote for change. What was being discussed was relevant to Limerick, not Leitrim and the meeting didn’t take Health Board staff away from their other duties for a day at a time. Members got tea and sandwiches and moderate expenses and everyone was happy.

In fact, what need is there, with modern technology, to have such physical meetings more than about twice a year? If Limerick Forum members spoke to the HSE and each other about Limerick and left everyone else to do the same, Skype meetings would suffice in most cases.

No expenses necessary.