The arrival of the Incontinence Advice Unit may herald a bright new day says Máiríde Woods.


I’m a veteran of the Nappy Wars. You remember those dismal days of the eighties, when penny-pinchers swarmed all over the health boards looking for services to cut- They decreed that disabled people who needed nappies were only to get two free pads a day. After demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns, they relented slightly–if you really, really needed them, you could have 120 per month, but that was it. They were fixed and immutable on the 120 mark–for people living in the community, that is. No such ceiling affected people in residential care. After months of cursing and grinding my teeth, I retired from the fray. Did they think there was a market in adult nappies? Did they think people sold them in Moore Street? My daughter wasn’t getting enough (at four a day), but I felt I’d rather buy the extra myself (and pay the VAT) than to beg any more. Presumably, for the health board that was the desired result.

Recently, that infelicitous expression ‘awash with money’ set up nappy-type echoes in my mind; and then my health board sent me (and, presumably, thousands of others) a nice little plastic case to stop my daughter’s medical card getting creased. A nicer person might have said, ‘How thoughtful of them.’ But as a veteran of the Nappy Wars, I thought, ‘How come they have money for fripperies like this and none for nappies?’ So next time the Molicare boxes in the attic were running low (you get six months’ supply at a time, and you’ve got to put them somewhere), I got out my assertiveness kit and rang my Community Care office. ‘Oh you’d better talk to the ERHA Incontinence Advice Unit,’ the girl said. The wha’ Gay? I had the feeling I was being kicked upstairs or down some bureaucratic corridor… ‘Advice,’ I muttered, ‘I’ll give you advice…’

But no! I was doing my reconstructed health board an injustice. The Incontinence Advice Unit was not just an example of rampant jargonisation; it was real, with an advisor who was willing to listen to my case, to come and visit myself and my daughter (within a fortnight!), to agree on the insufficiency of 120 nappies, and to up the allowance to five per day (taking into account the tendency of months to have 31 days). This nurse also told me about the existence of an extra-layered night-time nappy in my daughter’s size and she sent me a sample. (For years I had been using a baby nappy at night inside the regular health board one.)

Has the health board become a fairy godmother? I don’t know, but before the Celtic tiger swallows his tail and the penny-pinchers crawl out of the woodwork again, ring the ERHA Incontinence Advice Unit (01-635 2775) if you need nappies, and make your case. And if your health board doesn’t have an Incontinence Advice Unit, ring them up and tell them you’ve heard that it’s the best thing since sliced bread! Up in Dublin the Nappy Wars seem to be over-


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