‘We owe it to our older people’ ALONE calls on Government to establish a regulated home care sector to ensure the safeguarding of older people

ALONE, the organisation which supports older people has highlighted the need for an established and regulated home care sector in Ireland to support older people to age at home for as long as they wish. The organisation believes that the lack of governance within the home care sector has had an ongoing negative impact on home care workers, that has now been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. They contend that change is needed to ensure that home care workers are correctly protected, paid and trained going forward.

The home care sector has suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many home care workers losing pay during the pandemic despite the fact that the HSE agreed to pay providers who had to take time off work to self-isolate. During the height of the pandemic, many older people cancelled their home care services to prevent coming into contact with a carrier of the virus. Some older people also chose to pause care services during this time, due to the risks incurred from care providers going from house to house. In addition to this, many home care workers suffered a loss of income while self-isolating after coming into contact with a positive case of COVID-19, which resulted in some care workers experiencing additional financial pressure. ALONE believe that increased supports are needed for home care workers in order for them to continue the valuable service they provide.

Before the pandemic waiting lists for Home Care supports were continuing to lengthen and in many instances, lists were not being maintained. The Home Care Coalition note that the shortfall in home care provision is resulting in delayed discharges from hospital settings and are impacting on waiting times in Accident and Emergency departments. The Coalition is aware of and is working to support the Department of Health in the development of a statutory scheme to be introduced in 2021, however, the current pandemic will not grant this time and action is needed now. A home care packages allocation needs to be transparent while observing the allotment of hours required to provide an older person with an adequate and quality service.

ALONE believe that there needs to be a greater variety of practical supports available to older people in order to allow them to live independently at home. Many older people require the traditional home-help with household tasks such as preparing meals, housework and grocery shopping in order to stay living at home and remain independent. However, ALONE have found that for many people, the issue is that home care solely relates to ‘personal care’ and does not extend to practical household services. Auxiliary support services such as Meals On Wheels have also been scaled back due to governance requirements on small groups.

Although many older people have now reinstated their home care services, there are still individuals who have found themselves without home care services and are not receiving an adequate level of support. ALONE have been in touch with many older people regarding issues with home care, and the organisation’s support line has received a number of calls from older people in relation to lapses in home care services. An older lady named Jane*, who has now enlisted the help of ALONE, had the same carer for 12 years but had her pulled at the start of the pandemic; the carer is yet to be reinstated. Jane is really missing her carer and finding it difficult both on a social and practical level not having her call in daily.

Seán Moynihan, CEO of ALONE, said, “Quite a few of our older people put their Home Support on hold at the height of lockdown due to fears of infection, or because they had family members available to provide the care. Since then, most requests for reinstatement have been successful, but there are still a number of older people who are struggling without the right level of support. In order to rectify this, we are encouraging Government to establish a regulated home care sector to ensure that every older person is receiving the necessary levels of support to age at home safely and securely.”

He continued, “There are recurring issues with the lack of hours and type of assistance offered by HSE, and often the success of the application for home support depends on the Public Health Nurse in some areas. We owe it to our older people to provide them with a consistent level of high-quality service which is tailored to their specific needs in order for them to flourish independently in their own homes.”

Since March, ALONE’s Support Line has received in excess of 29,515 calls for support. ALONE staff and volunteers have made more than 155,267 calls to older people who needed support, and provided more than 23,104 units of practical support, including collecting groceries and prescriptions. ALONE is providing ongoing support to more than 14,183 older people who require support for difficulties with loneliness, health, finance, housing, accessing services, COVID-19 and other challenges.

ALONE is encouraging older people who need advice to call ALONE on, 0818 222 024 from 8am-8pm, seven days a week. Contact ALONE on 0818 222 024 if you have concerns about your own wellbeing, or the wellbeing of an older person you know. Further information can be found on www.alone.ie.

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