Thursday, 7 November 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Michael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
There are many promises made in the programme for Government in the area of health, but there has been a serious deterioration in the health service being delivered to people during the lifetime of the Government. Almost every area of the health service is in crisis. Today I will deal with the issue of home care hours. During the past year there has been an embargo on the provision of new home care hours. The home help service, vital in ensuring that elderly people can remain in their homes, remains largely closed to new applicants until January 2020 at a time when almost 7,500 people are on waiting lists. The only new home help hours being sanctioned are more or less recycled hours that become available when a person in receipt of home help dies and those hours are reallocated. No new hours have been allocated for a long time.
In my constituency of Cork South-West hundreds of people are waiting for home help. One of these people has been in Bantry General Hospital since June and has been ready to be discharged since September. However, this patient is wheelchair-bound and cannot return home without home help. My office has made representations on behalf of this man several times, but no home help hours have been made available. Therefore, he must remain in hospital, occupying an acute bed and at a high risk of picking up an infection. Lying in bed week after week is detrimental to his physical and mental well-being, while this man could be back in his own home with a minimum amount of home help. Another of my constituents is a woman with stage 4 cancer. Her family has been repeatedly told that no home help hours are available to her.
I know hundreds of others in a similar position to these patients. This is just the tip of the iceberg with regard to people looking for new home help hours. These people need help with everyday simple tasks such as getting out of bed, washing, dressing, attending to personal care, feeding and taking medication. The most basic things that we all take for granted are being denied to these vulnerable people.
I have heard from home helps throughout the country that the situation is at crisis level such that where an existing home help goes out sick, no replacement home help is available and many elderly and vulnerable are forced to stay in bed and wait until the home help returns while receiving a basic level of care from a kind-hearted neighbour who is untrained to look after a vulnerable person with special care requirements. This embargo completely contradicts everything the Government has said about supporting community-based care and helping people to remain in their homes for as long as possible. It also contradicts the principles of Sláintecare whose focus is on shifting care from the acute sector to the community.
In my constituency I know of several cases of elderly people who are being placed in residential care because their families cannot provide the care they need without home help support. These people could stay at home under a modest HSE home care package among their family and friends in their own community at little cost to the State. Instead, many have no choice but to go down the fair deal route, forcing people to end their days away from family and people they value most and at an enormous expense to the State.
It is widely accepted that due to medical advances in the previous century, people are living longer, and therefore forward planning is vital to ensure people have a good quality of life, even in old age. That includes enabling them to remain in their own homes for as long as possible with the provision of a home help as a basic support.
While I acknowledge that 1 million extra hours were announced in the budget, that is a quarter of what is needed to clear the backlog that has built up, and they will only become available in 2020. I ask the Government to lift the embargo on new home help hours. Will the Tánaiste instruct the Minister, Deputy Harris, to lift this embargo and give these vulnerable people the home help they need immediately as a matter of extreme urgency?