Ombudsman: Make it easier for Older People to Access Services

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Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has called for clear and targeted information to help older people access services.

She launched a report by Older and Bolder which highlighted the difficulties older people experience getting such information.

The report, Caught in the Web, urges public service providers to ensure that information is available through the post or the telephone as well as the internet. Ms O’Reilly said it was crucial that the most vulnerable people did not suffer because they were unclear about their entitlements or simply did not know how to find out.

Public bodies needed to communicate with those they served, she said. "It is not good enough to provide a service; clear and targeted information must be available to ensure that everybody entitled to a service can access it as easily as possible."

She said Revenue’s recent "pension letter" controversy showed the harm that could be done when public bodies failed to share information or failed to adequately communicate with a more vulnerable section of society.

Patricia Conboy, director of Older and Bolder, said older people should not have to battle with bureaucracy.

"They should be able to make a telephone call and have their query traced through a central tracking system the same way you can if you buy a book on Amazon or buy a flight or send a registered letter in the post," she said.

Seven people aged 53 to 80 took part in the study. Health was a primary concern, followed by home adaptation, support services in the community, and welfare entitlements and pensions. Maintaining independence into old age was a paramount concern for participants and was especially true for those who were widowed, living alone or had suffered serious health problems leading to disability.

A key concern for one of the participants was accessing information on repairing a hoist provided by the HSE and installed in her home by an independent company.

As the delivery people and the hospital refused to take responsibility for the hoist, the woman had no idea who to contact in the event of it breaking down.

Another woman contacted her local pharmacy to purchase incontinence pads. The pharmacy told her it did not stock them and she would have to request them through the HSE. She ended up relying on a friend who knew somebody who could get the pads for her.

There were many incidences where carers and older people had tried to get information on entitlements and had either not got a response or had been provided with inaccurate information.

While efforts have been made in recent years to improve access to information for older people, the study found that getting information on essential public services largely remained the responsibility of the older person or their carers.

It also showed that while some were keen to learn about computers they were reluctant to learn how to use them to access information.

Age Action said it was working to address the problems highlighted in the report by providing a phone information service that last year dealt with over 3,000 queries. It also provides computer training courses for older people to enable them access information online. More than 11,000 older people have been trained to date.

Paddy’s story

Paddy, 80, a widower living in a two-room cottage in a quiet rural area, suffers badly from arthritis and uses a fire tongs to pull on his trousers every morning.

Paddy uses a wheelchair to get around but his home is not adapted for wheelchair use. He is disappointed that he has seen so little of the public health nurse since becoming ill.

The health services provided an accessible prefab house in his garden months ago but he cannot use it as it has not been fully fitted out.

Although he has asked the public health nurse, he does not have any home help or personal care assistance.

He has also been unable to access the meal-on-wheels service and relies on a neighbour to make his dinners. Helen, 72, suffers badly from arthritis and has applied for a garage conversion under the housing adaptation grants scheme. She had previously applied for the housing insulation grant after reading about it in a newspaper. The insulation work was carried out soon after she completed an application form.

Helen was then surprised at the delay for her application for the housing adaptation scheme as she felt she was entitled to it.

When interviewed, she had been waiting months for a decision and had to sleep downstairs on a sofa when she could not manage the stairs.

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