New homecare regulations promised


Statutory regulation to control standards in the private homecare services sector may be in place next year, Minister of State with responsibility for Older People Áine Brady said earlier today.

Ms Brady said the Department of Health is examining regulation for the sector and while she couldn’t put a time frame on a completion date, she expects it “sometime next year”.

She was speaking after details emerged last night of substandard and inappropriate levels of care in the sector.

The Health Service Executive has begun a review of homecare services supplied to 65,000 older people following a series of complaints and a television news report.

The executive said it was “taking seriously” allegations that a number of private providers were failing to meet basic standards in the provision of care.

An investigation by RTÉ’s Prime Time showed several instances where it appeared that vulnerable elderly people had received inadequate care, and, in at least one case, had been mistreated by a member of staff.

The programme showed an elderly woman apparently being force fed by a care attendant working for Clontarf Home Care Services. The company said three members of staff had been suspended on full pay pending an investigation.

The company said it was a not-for-profit community-based health care provider and had been proving homecare help for 38 years.

Ms Brady said it was clear the behaviour and practices highlighted in the programme constituted “an unacceptable” breach of trust.

“I am particularly concerned at the effects that any breach of trust has on the care recipients and their families and loved ones,” she said.

Ms Brady said there were 150 private providers catering for around 6,000 elderly people in their homes across the country.

While the Health Information and Quality Authority regulates standards in private nursing homes, the home care sector remains unregulated and there is no legal obligation on the providers to vet staff.

The HSE spends about €340 million a year on homecare services for about 65,000 people. More than 90 per cent of this care is provided directly by HSE staff.

It said last night it was taking seriously the concerns raised and confirmed that eight local health offices in the greater Dublin region received a total of 38 complaints about homecare services over the past three and a half years.

The HSE has requested tenders from private homecare providers who will provide services in future according to approved standards. These will be identified by February and will have to meet certain minimum standards.

It said if a member of the public wants to report a concern with a homecare service they should contact the HSE directly on its Information line, 1850-242850, which will be open from 8am today.

Mairead Hayes of the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament said there is an urgent need for statutory regulation and licensing of this area.

“The old and vulnerable must be protected and its time to stop the scandal and start bringing Ireland into the 21st Century,” she added.

Fine Gael’s Catherine Byrne claimed the programme highlighted the need for Hiqa to inspect home care services.

“It is very distressing to think of older people being exposed to low standards or poor treatment by those entrusted with their care,” she said.

Labour’s Phil Prendergast said the absence of regulation is leading to “untrained and overworked carers mistreating elderly people and unscrupulous employers facilitating this by neglecting their obligations”.

She said this is the result of Minister for Health Mary Harney making the private sector responsible for the welfare of thousands of older people.

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said he intends to raise the matter in the Dáil with the Minister and will be seeking a special debate on the “appalling” revelations.