Home helps under pressure to fill the missing minutes
The words were still ringing in her ears as she hurried on to her next call. “Please stay for five more minutes,” the elderly woman had pleaded. But Una, her home help, had already been there for an hour (twice what she will be paid for) and had more calls to do. Guiltily, she raced out the door.
The woman who had begged her to stay just a little longer is well into her 90s and used to have home help for an hour every day but that has been cut to half an hour.
One day a week she still gets a full hour so that she can have a shower. The woman is incontinent and has thrush. She uses a walking aid. Her shower is upstairs and, according to Una, it takes half an hour to get her into the shower.
“I could not leave the poor thing for a week because she would be sore,” says Una who, like all the Co Sligo-based home helps interviewed here, won’t give her real name, having been instructed by text message not to talk to the media. Recently this client had a “turn” in the shower and Una had to practically carry her downstairs.
Una’s hours have been cut from 39 a week to 14 and a half in the past few months. The last time she got paid, the mother of four young children burst into tears when she saw how little she was getting.
Una feels guilty rushing elderly clients as she gets them up and dressed, empties commodes, makes beds, prepares breakfast and – in half an hour – tries to leave a dinner, maybe just a few fish fingers, which can be reheated later in the microwave.
She regularly does shopping for people with no transport. At the weekend if her husband cooks a bit of bacon and cabbage, she brings a plate to the woman in her 90s.
“I meet a lot of the girls on the road with plates at the weekend,” said Una who says she is not the only home help who puts a bit extra in the pot for a client who is too frail to cook. One of her female clients has been known to get dinner at 5am from a family member with a drink problem.
At a recent demonstration against cuts, home helps from Sligo passed the time canvassing each other for items like secondhand microwaves and old clothes for clients in need. “Clients who are incontinent need lots of clothes,” Una explains.
She says she has no doubt that the cuts would be reversed if she and her colleagues walked out the door once the allotted time was up, precipitating a crisis for the health authorities – but also for the clients. “We could walk out the door and ring the office and say X is sitting on the toilet and won’t be able to get back to her chair without help but they know we won’t do that because our clients are like family,” says Una.