Philomena Butler outside Cherry Orchard, where she goes for respite

CARERS of elderly patients at a public hospital have questioned the costs involved in moving their relatives into private nursing homes following a decision by the HSE to close down a unit at the facility where their family members receive respite care.

Management at Cherry Orchard Hospital in south Dublin informed patients' families recently that in mid-July they would "temporarily" close all beds at the Beech unit of the facility, which contains 16 respite beds, mainly for Alzheimer's patients.

The hospital is unable to keep the unit open because of staff shortages due to the HSE embargo on recruitment.

Following significant public pressure and a protest against the closures on Thursday outside HSE headquarters at Dr Stevens Hospital, the executive decided to accommodate some respite patients currently in the Beech unit within other wards of the hospital.

But the HSE is also adhering to its original plan and will transfer some respite patients currently in a number of beds at the Beech unit and two other wards within the hospital to private nursing homes in the "locality".

They also say they will cover the cost of the private care and insist that it will be more cost-effective to do this rather than paying their own staff to keep the Cherry Orchard beds open.

Elderly patient Philomena Butler (76), who has received respite at Cherry Orchard for three years, has now been told she will have to be transferred out of the hospital to a nursing home in Lucan.

Philomena's son Anthony (49) takes care of his wheelchair bound mother in the family home on Decies Road in Ballyfermot four days a week and she receives respite care at Cherry Orchard for the remainder of the week.

Anthony Butler, who is in receipt of disability benefit, said he fears for both his mother's mental and physical state because of her imminent change of environment.

He also questioned whether the HSE would end up spending more money on the patients by transferring them into private nursing homes.

"This can play havoc with an old person's mind. Up there [Cherry Orchard] she felt safe and secure. She is terrified because she can remember the scandal about Leas Cross nursing home," he said

"What they are saying is that they are going to transfer these people into private nursing homes. That is going to cost more money than keeping them in Cherry Orchard Hospital and that is a complete waste."