Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Matter of Life & Death: Waterford Hospice Funding

Since January of this year I have been working on trying to collate figures on the Waterford Hospice funding situation. It was sparked when the online media source The Journal printed an article with a link to the allocations nationwide to all organisations funded by the Health Service Executive. So I had a look. As you do when you're a politician. Now it is quite convoluted but the overall picture that emerges is (surprise surprise) the Hospice in Waterford and indeed the wider South East is funded to NOTHING like the level of Hospice Organisations in other parts of the country.

Now as most of us know here in Waterford, the annual cost of running the homecare service is around €550,000 - or at least it was in 2013 and I'm quite sure it's still around that figure. The grant from the HSE in 2013 was around €205,000 - or less than 38% of the running costs. 

On top of that the Waterford Hospice is being asked - or at least we the people of Waterford through them are being asked - to come up with around €6,000,000 as a contribution towards building a Regional Palliative Care Unit (a Regional facility...think about what we're being asked here) in the grounds of University Hospital Waterford (no the name hasn't made any difference to anything before you ask: the hospital is still critically underfunded but perhaps the new Minister for Health Mr Varadker with his Waterford mum might be less in thrall to certain Kilkenny consultants and their egos - at the expense of their patients - than was his predecessor!) 

But I digress. So in 2013 the HSE funded Waterford Hospice to the tune of under 38%. This is the figure that matters. So what is the level of funding provided by the HSE to other Hospice organisations? 

I have information to hand that in other areas the amount grant aided is as high as 90% of the funding required! If the Waterford Hospice Movement were to be funded on that basis - and why shouldn't they be? - it would mean that the sick people of Waterford are being short-changed by the HSE to the tune of over €300,000 every year! 

I imagine that if this €300,000 monkey was off our backs we could well raise the remainder of the €6,000,000 required as our *contribution* towards the Regional Palliative Care Unit that the HSE is taking a generation to provide - but that's another story.

One of the recommendations from the End-of-Life and Palliative Care in Ireland report published earlier this year is that:

  • The Government could be asked to address the regional disparities* which exist in the provision and funding of specialist palliative care services in Ireland, to ensure that the needs of all those who require specialist palliative care services are met - whether it be in the home, in the community or in a specialised hospice. (*my highlights)

In fact even the Houses of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health & Children made the exact same recommendation in it's own report published in July.

So I must be on the right track. What I can't figure out from the figures I have is whether Waterford and the South East receive the lowest percentage of funding (which I suspect) or indeed which Hospice Groups get the 90% as all I have are the HSE grant allocations and not the total running costs of each group. (Although I do have the Waterford figures obviously which are burned into my brain!)

What I can say is that this year, by way of two examples, the Galway Hospice Foundation received a grant of €3,428,000 and Northwest Hospice received a grant of €1,056,000.

Now don't get me wrong, it is correct that the HSE provides this funding in my view. What I cannot understand is the difference in support levels. Why are the people of Waterford and the South East being asked to raise over 60% of the running costs for the Hospice  when people in other regions are picking up just 10% of the tab?

This is (more) blatant discrimination and indeed mis-managment in my view and cannot be justified. Those who volunteer and raise money for the hospice day-in, day-out are extraordinary people. Exemplary. But are they being ridden by the HSE? Are they - and we - being taken advantage of? And if not, how does the HSE explain the discrepancy in the percentages of funding provided to different regions?

Could it be, as is often the case in Ireland, that it happens like this just because it always has? Could it be that other areas have had beneficial treatment due to political interventions? I don't know the answer. But I do know that it is patently unfair on the people of Waterford and the South East to continuously have to fund raise such a huge amount of money when other regions are being handed it from the HSE.

I'm not even going down the path that this is a core medical service which should be a funded provision of our health service and not fundraised for - other than for additional optional supports. I am happy if Waterford can just receive parity of funding with other regions in Ireland.

It is simply not good enough that an agency of the state can perpetuate this kind of inequality. We must start demanding change. Even though I know we are all demanded out here. And understandably so. But this is literally a matter of life and death. It simply cannot be allowed to continue. At least not without us shining a light on it and adding it to the TOP of our list to question our local TDs on as they gear up for an ever nearing General Election.

We need answers and we need them now. And change. We want the funding changed so that those people - our mothers, husbands, friends, relatives - very sick and dying in Waterford will receive the same level of government support as those in other parts of Ireland.

You'd really have to despair at how this country is run. It's pathetic.

Incidentally it is worth noting that when you contribute to the (very deserving) Irish Hospice Foundation, the money DOES NOT go towards the local home care service here in Waterford, which is run by an entirely voluntary committee, or towards funding the building of our Regional Palliative Care unit at the hospital. I think people often think that it does so it's worth remembering that if you want to contribute to the running of the Hospice service locally you MUST donate to the Waterford Hospice

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Demise of Red Kettle Theatre Company (Waterford and Arts Council Funding)

I had the very sad news confirmed today about the demise of Red Kettle Theatre Company. Now for those who don't know I was a founder member of Red Kettle - not in the artistic leadership kind of way, but rather in the I-was-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time having a blast kind of a way. But I was there at the beginning and I suppose because of that I've always felt a special affinity with the company with which I had such a lot of fun for so many years of my teens and early twenties.

So I heard the news of it's going into liquidation with no little sense of loss this morning on local radio.

And then I did a scary thing: I went onto the Arts Council website and carried out a little exercise. I picked a few locations around the country and I went through all the Arts Council funding streams and calculated how much funding was going from them to different areas of Ireland.

I chose Waterford (City & County) obviously. I chose Limerick (City & County); Galway City & Galway County and Wexford County. I decided not to go for Dublin or Cork as they aren't really comparable size wise (but any cursory glance would seem to indicate that Dublin gets way more of the national arts funding pie than their 25% of the population would merit but that's a discussion for another day). I also put all the funding for either City or County into the same pile so as to have comparisons to Limerick and Waterford in our new guises as merged City & County Councils with Galway City Council and Galway County Council. So I had four columns of funds received.

I trawled through every funding stream for just 2014 and included everything from all their lists. This included everything from bursaries for individual artists based in a council area right up to the Wexford Opera Festival (the largest single grant in any of my four lists).

CAVEAT: I may have skipped a few and I say now that these figures are crude and represent only my calculation and interpretation of the information available on the Arts Council website and so come with a health warning. But if anyone wants to do the job themselves they are welcome. Also if someone can show me that I am vastly incorrect in these figures then I will amend them.

Anyway, the results are startling!

Wexford County Council had, in total, 7 grant allocations totalling €1,531,200.
Limerick City & County had, in total, 13 grant allocations totalling €1,644,855 (not including City of Culture funding).
Waterford City & County had, in total, 7 grant allocations totalling €600,335.
Galway City & County had, in total, 46 grant allocations totalling €3,083,337.

I'm just going to let that hang there.....

Perhaps I am reading the figures wrong (I double checked and I have them all listed but it's too long to include here). Maybe my maths is suspect (so I used a calculator and did the sums twice!) Maybe I'm the only one who is startled. But startled I was - and am.

I find these figures hard to explain. I'd really like someone who has access to parliamentary questions ask if this can be so. That there can be such geographical discrepancies. Or maybe this is fair and I just don't *understand*. Perhaps some local media or journalist will take it up and do further research. I'd love to be proved wrong on this one.

Now I'm not expecting an exact allocation-to-population ratio but you might expect it to be a bit closer than this. On a level playing pitch. In a fair world. I know Galway is a centre for the arts. But Waterford has a huge theatrical, dramatic and musical history and heritage - and output(!) on a par with anywhere in Ireland - and far ahead of some I would say. But our festivals, theatre companies, artists, venues, arts centres and companies are in the ha'penny place when it comes to other cities. And what little we have is being hacked away at every year leading, as it eventually must, to the demise of great little companies like Red Kettle. (There was no grant allocation at all to Red Kettle from the Arts Council for 2014 incidentally.)

And I'm not saying that Red Kettle was perfect. But it was ours. And it was hard won. And much loved. And it contributed a huge amount to the cultural existence of Waterford City and surrounds and indeed further afield. It spawned generations of Waterfordians who are now having full creative careers, here in Waterford and abroad. We'll have loads of venues soon. With no artists. After all what is a theatre without actors, producers, directors, writers? Is it okay to say we'll pay you for 3 months for a production and after that you can free fall until the next production? Is it okay to say Galway people, and Dublin people shall have a generously funded, vibrant arts scene but those Waterford people can make do with less...MUCH less?!?!

It's a sad day indeed. Work will go on, no doubt, to try and salvage what can be salvaged to keep a professional theatre company in Waterford but without Arts Council support it will be difficult. Work is already underway to try and salvage the excellent work of Little Red Kettle which has a huge programme of events all year through with young people and whose work is largely funded through Waterford Youth Committee.

And just to end on a positive note I want to juxtapose this bad news with the good news of the GIY (Grow It Yourself) HQ which is due to commence building here in the City this year with a view to opening next year in 2015. What a positive, fresh, grown from within project that is. They have launched a Fundit campaign to raise €20,000. It's Waterford peoples chance to help (if they can) and to show our support for what will, no doubt, create many jobs and much positive publicity for us at a time when we really need it. If you have anything you can donate please do so on

It's not quite a theatrical Phoenix arising from the ashes but at least it's something we can do for ourselves if we get behind it.

Up the Deise.

Thanks all, Mary x.