Complaints over home help show older people at risk of abuse

No statutory standards, regulations or inspections in place for the sector


Vulnerable older people are being exposed to the risk of abuse and mistreatment due to an absence of home help inspections, unpublished records show.

As concern regarding oversight of creches continues, new reports on complaints over home helps show cases of older people being left in bed because staff did not show up, poor standards of intimate care and allegations of theft.

Tens of thousands of older people across the State depend on home help and homecare services everyday to allow them to remain in their own homes. However, there are still no statutory standards, regulations or inspections in place for the sector.

Complaint examples
Records of complaints regarding home help services released to The Irish Times show 11 Health Service Executive local health offices dealt with 80 complaints during 2012. They include complaints such as:

lAn elderly woman who was unable to leave her bed all weekend because staff failed to turn up;

lA threat by a home help to shower a disabled stroke victim only twice a week because she was “sick to death” with problems caused by the client;

lA care worker who left a bucket of urine in an older man’s room, and used soiled clothes to wash him;

lAn allegation of the unauthorised possession of an older person’s pension and credit union book by a home help, resulting in a HSE and Garda investigation; and

lConcerns among family members about the competence and experience of staff providing basic levels of care.

Reacting to the complaints received by the HSE, advocacy groups for older people reiterated their call for regulation of the home help sector.

Eamon Timmins of Age Action said: “The State has a responsibility to protect those who are extremely vulnerable . . . and behind the four walls of your own home you are particularly vulnerable.”

While he said there were many exceptionally good home help professionals, he urged relatives of people in receipt of services to do spot checks. “Unfortunately, it is up to people to be vigilant because no one else is keeping an eye out for them,” he said.

Patricia Conboy, director of Older and Bolder, said the regulation of homecare lagged behind other areas: “It should be properly regulated in law and needs quality standards within a legal framework in the same way we now have in relation to nursing homecare.”

Some private firms also say they are keen for the area to be regulated.

Home help services are either provided directly by HSE staff or by voluntary or private service providers. Since 2012, non-HSE service providers have to meet certain standards, criteria and agreed contract documentation when providing homecare.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the HSE had undertaken a review of arrangements for the delivery of home help services by non-HSE providers in 2010.

She said reviews provided to almost 48,000 in receipt of mainstream home help at the time showed 99 per cent of clients were happy with the service, with just 0.25 per cent expressing dissatisfaction. Of 43 formal complaints, 26 were upheld.

National standards
The spokeswoman said the Government was committed to developing and implementing national standards for home support services, to be inspected by the Health Information and Quality Authority.

However, Age Action said 2016 was too far in the future for the introduction of regulation, with Mr Timmins warning that “between now and then there are huge risks”.