I propose, with your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, to take Questions Nos. 8, 9 and 10 together.
I would not accept that the persons referred to by Deputy Flanagan died from neglect. Two of the persons referred to were a married couple; the wife, the cause of whose death was pneumonia, had been out on the day before her death and had been accompanied home by a neighbour. Her husband, whom she cared for, had been medically advised to go to hospital but had refused to do so. In the third case the woman concerned was regularly visited by a neighbour and by a home help. A relative who visited her in the days before her death wanted to get a doctor but she refused to have one. There was food and fuel in the house at the time. In the circumstances I would deprecate any implication that these deaths were the outcome of neglect.
So far as health services for old people are generally concerned health authorities at present provide domiciliary nursing services for old people living at home and these people, if they are in the lower income group, are also eligible for general practitioner services provided by the district medical officers. District nurses are required, so far as this is possible, to maintain a list of old persons in their areas and to try to keep in touch with them. Apart from the services provided by the health authorities themselves, many voluntary bodies in Dublin and other areas are active in providing services for old people. Health authorities assist these bodies by making grants to meet the cost of some or all of their activities. The extent to which use is made of these services provided by voluntary organisations was the subject of an inquiry sent to health authorities within the past week and I hope to review specially this aspect of health activities when the required information has been furnished.
In addition to the health services made available by health authorities, certain other services, such as public assistance and the free fuel scheme, for which the Minister for Social Welfare is responsible, are also provided for old people.
In order to try to provide more comprehensive and co-ordinated services for old people the existing services have been reviewed by an inter-departmental committee whose report will be published within the next few weeks. I propose to ask health authorities to review critically their services for old people in the light of recommendations contained in that report.
It will be apparent, however, that where people exercise their right to continue to live on their own at an advanced age it would be impossible, no matter how good statutory and voluntary services were, to ensure that incidents of the type mentioned did not occur.