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Fears for future of alarms for elderly scheme

Saturday, 22nd November, 2014 7:55pm
Fears for future of alarms for elderly scheme

Diarmuid Cronin, Muintir na Tire Community Development Officer for Cork, Limerick and Kerry.


COMMUNITY alert alarms for the elderly are likely to jump in price, along with the cost of monitoring them, a community worker has warned.

The price rise fears are prompted by the government’s decision to remove the responsibility of running the ‘Seniors Alert Scheme’ from the Department of the Environment, according to one of the scheme’s co-ordinators.

The scheme is currently run by a team within the Department of the Environment (DOE), but that is set to change from January when Pobal, which runs several State contracts, takes over.

Pobal has already sought new tenders for the scheme, according to Diarmuid Cronin, the Community Alert Development Officer for Cork, Limerick and Kerry.

And Mr Cronin has queried the wisdom of changing the present system which, he says, is run very efficiently by the Department.

Currently, alarms supplied under the Senior Alert Scheme are monitored for about €67 a year, meaning that when an elderly person activates their ‘panic’ button, there is an immediate response.

Mr Cronin believes that, under the new contracts, the cost is likely to come closer in line with UK monitoring prices, which are currently running at about £200 a year.

Speaking to The Southern Star this week, Mr Cronin outlined his concerns for the 150,000-plus customers of the scheme nationwide.

Pobal advertised the first tenders for the new contracts in October, but under new rules, the country was divided into ten separate regions. No company can tender for more than three regions, and Mr Cronin believes this will mean that many current firms will no longer be viable.

‘A company that supplied equipment to the entire country may not find it financially possible with the smaller markets,’ he said. ‘At the stroke of a pen, Pobal are denying a company 70% of the Irish market and potentially excluding excellent companies from the market,’ said Mr Cronin. He believes the new regional structure will drive up the price of monitoring, maintenance and ancillary equipment.

The Department responsed to the concerns this week, saying there was ‘nothing to suggest’ that the changes would mean a price rise. In fact, said a DOE statement, a price reduction may even ensue, given the introduction of a ‘panel’ of monitoring firms. The beneficiary of the grant can choose which firm to use, or may choose to stick with their existing provider.

‘This is an enchancement to the current arrangements for the scheme,’ the statement added.

Mr Cronin believes that EU standards should be the very minimum standard for any equipment on the Irish market, and that this is not the case under the revised plan.

He also feels the changes could lead to a loss of jobs in the firms supplying this equipment, as smaller markets could mean greater financial pressure.

But the DOE statement said the new tendering process was designed to ‘promote competition’ and it added that the equipment supplied will be subjected to ‘minimum standard requirements’, as outlined in the tender documents.

‘This new approach will reduce the administrative burden for the many hundreds of community and voluntary groups registered under the Scheme and it will enable the groups to concentrate on the main purpose of the Scheme, namely to interact with the elderly in the local community,’ it said.

A lot of elderly customers have also availed of good value add-ons like fall detectors, bed occupancy detectors, monitored smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, temperature monitors and medicine reminders, he said. But these may no longer be available if the standard of equipment falls, says Mr Cronin.

‘The standard of equipment on the market currently is very high, the cost of monitoring it is lower than the UK, which is a huge marketplace compared to Ireland,’ he noted. ‘Pobal have had no involvement with the Seniors Alert Scheme or its predecessor schemes in the past. It’s not broken so why the haste to dismantle?

He says competition in the sector was integral in keeping the costs down, but now this move will jeopardise that.

Even at this late stage, consultations with the stakeholders should take place.

Last week Labour deputy Michael McCarthy welcomed a securing, in the recent Budget, of funds for the scheme. ‘The very important Seniors Alert Scheme has been prioritised,’ he said. ‘The Budget saw some €133m secured for investment in community programmes, and this includes the Scheme, which supports the provision of monitored alarms to enable pensioners of limited means to continue to live securely in their homes with confidence.’