Many HSE-provided home help services would not meet minimum international standards, umbrella group claims

Co-chairman of homecare group says private sector has called for regulation of home helps for years

Home help services provided directly by the HSE or by voluntary or private service providers are subject to guidelines.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Home help services provided directly by the HSE or by voluntary or private service providers are subject to guidelines. Photograph: Alan Betson

Wed, Jun 5, 2013, 01:00

If minimum international best standards for home help and homecare services were introduced immediately, some providers would have difficulty meeting them, a private homecare umbrella group claims.

Michael Harty, co-chairman of Home and Community Care Ireland, a group representing 25 private homecare companies and franchises, said the private industry had been calling for regulation for many years.

Home help services provided directly by the HSE or by voluntary or private service providers are subject to guidelines.

Since 2012 non-HSE service providers have to meet certain criteria and agreed contract documentation when providing homecare packages. However there are no statutory regulations or inspections in place in the home help sector.

Absence of regulation
Mr Harty said: “In the absence of regulation in the sector, one of the best ways to promote quality provision is to empower clients and give them choice over the type of care that they are receiving and who delivers that care. This choice is presently not available in the home help sector.

“We’re not talking about provision of electricity here – this is a very personal service where the provision of that service is of paramount importance.”

His comments come in the wake of the publication in yesterday’s Irish Times of details of some 80 complaints received by the HSE in relation to home help and homecare services last year.

They included a case where an elderly woman was unable to leave her bed all weekend because home help staff did not call to her home; and a home help worker who told a disabled stroke victim that she would shower him just two times a week because she was “sick to death” with problems caused by the client.

Another case centred on an allegation that a home support worker was charging a client for his dinner and had taken his pension and credit union book. The case has been referred to gardaí while a HSE Trust in Care investigation is also in place.

Other complaints centred on the competence of staff. One complaint involved a carer who did not remove a bucket of urine from an elderly client’s room and who, having first used a cloth to clean the man’s buttock area “was proceeding to continue washing with the same cloth and water”.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the revelations were “extremely worrying but not surprising”.

Commercial commodity
“Like the care of children, the care of older people in this State has been treated as a commercial commodity and a source of private profit,” he said.

“The care responsibility of the State and society comes far behind. We need a fundamental reappraisal of the way care is provided,” he said.

Miriam Hamilton, lead organiser with the union Siptu who represents home helps employed by the HSE, pointed out that the majority of home help workers are professional and caring individuals whose service is incredibly valuable to the people in receipt of their care, their families and to the HSE given that nursing home and long-stay beds for elderly people are “infinitely more expensive” than the homecare model.

However, she said that home help and homecare hours had been cut between 2008 and 2012 meaning that workers “are either in a huge rush to get the same amount done in less time while a lot of others have reported staying on for free”.