'I love my patients. But the HSE seems to want us out'
IN THE 2011 Programme for Government, the Labour Party and Fine Gael say additional funding will be provided each year for the care of older people.
“This funding will go to more residential places, more home-care packages and the delivery of more home help and other professional community care services.”
The HSE is just beginning to implement a second wave of deep cuts to home-help services: about 500,000 hours by the end of the year on top of the 500,000 hours already cut earlier in the year. Protests against the cuts are escalating with two due to take place in Dublin next Wednesday and Thursday and another in Cork on November 3rd.
Public and voluntary home helps, who many people consider the backbone of community support to disabled and older people in their own homes, speak of having had their hours cut, the amount of time they may spend with clients cut, of seeing their work being handed over to private operators and uncertainty about whether they will have jobs in 12 months. The majority are women who work part-time with no or insecure contracts of employment.
Organisations such as Older and Bolder, Age Action Ireland and the Irish Wheelchair Association say the planned cuts to home helps must be reversed because they do not make economic or social sense.
Kathleen McLoughlin, the chief executive of the IWA, says in the past six years she has never seen its “members so frightened about what is going to happen to them if they lose their home-help hours. The loss of even one or two hours a week to a person is potentially devastating and will, without a shadow of a doubt, see many being forced into expensive long-term care.”
The HSE, which funds more than 10 million hours of home-help care to more than 50,000 people, says most local health offices have spent their budget for the service. It says this budget must be cut drastically, but promises people’s needs will be assessed and the cuts will be proportionate.
The home-help sector is fragmented, complex, changing and, most dangerously in a time of rapid flux, unregulated.
There are about 9,300 home helps in Ireland, working either for the HSE or for voluntary organisations that it funds, with an annual budget of €195 million. This figure is down from 12,350 home helps in 2007. There is also a growing but unknown number working for private home-care operators, the biggest of which are Home Instead Senior Care, All in Care and Comfort Keepers.
Samantha Byrne will be one of the people joining the People Before Profit protest in Dublin on Wednesday. She has worked for six years as a home help with Marino-Fairview Home Help, a not-for-profit service funded by the HSE. She is also the Siptu shop steward in the organisation.