Home help regulation required to protect vulnerable people outside institutions

Ombudsman says area operating with basically nobody watching

A regulatory system must be established for the home help sector to protect vulnerable people who are being dealt with outside of institutionalised settings, Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly has said.

Ms O’Reilly said she did not think the relevant Ministers would disagree with the need to introduce a regulatory inspection process given that this was an area where, at the present time, basically nobody was watching.

“You’re not going to get a whistleblower in a house where there is an elderly lady or gentleman living on their own and dealing with an individual [coming in] who is generally going to be more powerful than them in terms of capacity both physical and intellectual.”

Her comments came after the publication by The Irish Times of details of 80 complaints received by the HSE in relation to home help and homecare services last year.

Among the complaints was a case where an elderly woman could not leave her bed for a full weekend as home help staff did not visit her, and another in which a home help worker told a disabled stroke victim she would shower him just twice a week as she was “sick to death” of dealing with problems caused by him.

Minister of State for Older People Kathleen Lynch has indicated that home helps for the elderly will be the next to come under formal Government regulation.

Ms O'Reilly said it was a pity that details of the home help cases and also issues at creches, revealed by RTÉ documentary A Breach of Trust last week, had to come out as a result of journalistic exposés "when really this stuff should be out there".

Ms O’Reilly said there was no reason why reports on facilities such as creches should not be available on the internet given it was relevant public information and “parents are entrusting their children to these places”.

“The barriers to getting this stuff should be minimal,” she added.

Meanwhile, older persons charity Alone said there was evidence “of a low level of willingness” among older people in receipt of home help services to complain about their quality.

The charity said the situation was “most probably made worse by a fear among people about services being withdrawn in cutbacks”.

Trade union Siptu welcomed Ms Lynch's comments about regulating the provision of home help services but warned regulation cannot guarantee quality care for elderly people without increased funding.

Siptu organiser Paul Bell said home helps faced enormous challenges to delivering quality care due to cutbacks, with some of his members " being asked to deliver very vital personal services to clients in less than 15 minutes".

“In the absence of adequate resources to deliver quality care, regulation will be tokenistic,” he said.

The union said some members in Co Louth were holding a protest in Dundalk tomorrow at 3pm to call for the restoration of hours cut from home support services. According to the HSE Service Plan published earlier this year, the reduction was about 200,000 hours.

"[Minister for Health James Reilly] must cease the practice of cutting home support hours due to financial considerations only, and recognise that the needs of the elderly and disabled people who require this service must come first," said protest organiser Miriam Hamilton.