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Paralysed pensioner in 24 hour power cut
Published 06/05/14

A WOMAN who cares for her paralysed husband has complained after being left helpless by a 24-hour power cut.

Marjorie Tierney, 76, had to cope by herself when she lost the electricity supply at her home in Whitchurch Hill that she shares with her husband Michael.

Now she is afraid of another power cut in case the same thing happens and has called on her power supplier to do more to help vulnerable customers like her.

She also complained to Henley MP John Howell who has pledged to take up the issue with the energy minister.

Mr Tierney, also 76, suffers from advanced motor neurone disease and can no longer move any part of his body except his eyes. He and his wife, who have been married for 51 years, live in a specially adapted house and depend on power around the clock.

Mr Tierney, a retired dentist, sleeps upstairs in a motorised bed which can be raised or lowered and regularly turns him so he does not develop bed sores.

He has an electric hoist to get him into bed or the shower and uses a lift to go up and down the stairs.

He gets around the house on an electric wheelchair and relies on liquid food from an electric pump as he can no longer chew or swallow.

He can still breathe unaided but his condition is likely to deteriorate and one day he may need a respirator.

The couple experienced a power cut in the middle of one night in November and the supply was not restored until noon.

Mr Tierney could still use his hoist as it is battery powered but he could not shower or go downstairs.

Mrs Tierney spoke to power company SSE, which said it would add them to the households on the priority list. These homes are supposed to be reconnected urgently and the owners are meant to be put through to an adviser on the telephone more quickly than regular customers.

However, when half the homes in Whitchurch Hill were cut off during the February floods Mrs Tierney said she struggled to get help.

The power went off at about 9pm one night and was still off the next morning. She phoned SSE several times explaining that she was a priority customer but kept being told no help was available.

It wasn’t until about 2pm she was told that someone would deliver a diesel-powered generator. This arrived about two hours later. Meanwhile, her husband was stranded upstairs and had to be washed in his bed because the shower was broken.

Mrs Tierney said: “I had to phone several times just to speak to someone because they were inundated with everyone else ringing them up. You’re left hanging on listening to music and recorded messages for such a long time and it’s absolute torture — it nearly finishes you off.

“I must have spent the whole morning on and off trying to reach someone and when I finally did they just said they would ‘see what we can do’.”

She said the engineer who bought the generator told her that she could switch it off once the village’s supply was restored.

Mrs Tierney did so when her neighbours had power at 7pm but her house was in darkness as the engineer had bypassed her mains connection. She could not then switch the generator back on because its battery was flat.

She called SSE for help but was told nobody could come out that night and she should call an ambulance for her husband if there was a medical emergency.

She feared being without power overnight but a friend knew a senior manager at SSE and put pressure on the company to resolve it.

A technician was sent out to restore the power at 10.30pm and the generator was collected the next morning.

Mrs Tierney has written to SSE with her concerns and asked Mr Howell to urge the Government to put more pressure on power companies to ensure they can cope when severe weather hits.

She said: “I know power cuts are difficult for everyone but this is not just about the general discomfort they cause.

“Everybody suffers to some degree when they happen but this is a totally different ball game. This is not just about us, either. We know other people with motor neurone disease and other illnesses who are severely disabled or on respirators.

“I’m not just fighting this for us but for everyone who is affected. We are only one example of a wider problem.

“When we spoke to SSE they could not reassure us that someone would come out immediately, which was desperately stressful. The worst aspect of it is that you feel so isolated because you have no idea how long the power will be gone.

“SSE have acknowledged that they didn’t respond in the way they should have but I think the Government should be doing more. It’s the sort of thing you never want to happen again but it will if we have more of these storms. We should not have to wait until the next hurricanes and floods bring a further crisis. We need to be prepared.”

Mrs Tierney was supported by the Motor Neurone Disease Association, which said this was not an isolated case.

Volunteer Jane Gilbert said: “This very worrying issue needs to be taken up at national level so that vulnerable people get the support they deserve. Mrs Tierney expresses so well the stress and exhaustion it engenders for her and other carers like her.”

Mr Howell said he had contacted SSE to discuss its procedures and ask whether more could be done. He said he would raise the issue with energy minister Michael Fallon, adding: “There is clearly a real need here and I am trying to tackle it in the most constructive way possible.”

SSE says it is investigating the case and will contact Mrs Tierney to arrange a face-to-face meeting.

A spokeswoman said: “We are taking this very seriously and will be speaking to our operations manager for the area.”

THE Tierneys moved to Whitchurch Heath from Burghfield Common in 2006. Mr Tierney, who was a dentist in Reading until he retired 16 years ago, began struggling with his speech and balance in 2009 when he fell over several times. He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease two years later. The condition affects one in every 50,000 people and causes a gradual breakdown of motor neurones, the nerve cells that allow muscle movement. The cause is unknown. Mr Tierney had some movement in his right hand until Christmas and was able to use a tablet computer but can now only use a computer that he controls with eye movements. He is visited by two carers in the morning and evening while Mrs Tierney looks after him during the day. The couple have three grown-up children and five grandchildren. Mrs Tierney said: “My family are enormously supportive but they’ve got lives of their own and can’t be here at our beck and call. I do what I can but I couldn’t cope on my own.”

Published 06/05/14

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