Do governments and corporations have niche departments charged with inventing new, impressive names for jobs that sound humdrum in a boring, 20th century kind of way? Perhaps that sort of creative task is outsourced for agreeable fees to image consultants?
The exciting news for home helps — and the people who rely on them — is they’re now to be known as health care support assistants. The very disturbing news, however, is that our vital home-help service is to be restricted severely until the autumn, and possibly beyond, given that the Government is working on a “template” for what the service might look like by the year’s end.
It’s likely that this so-called template will feature a payment element for an essential service that’s currently — and rightly — free of charge. Our newly-titled health-care support assistants, and the people who might need their invaluable home help in the months to come, have sound grounds for curbing optimism that the problems that have brought the service to this perilous point will be solved speedily by this government.
The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has told the Dáil that the Government was working on a “plan of action” that would “give people a guarantee of home help within four or five weeks”.
That must be quite some plan, since that was what Mr Varadkar said in May 2018. Now, more than 12 months on, and with more than 6,000 people on the waiting list, the service is to be closed to new applicants until almost the end of the year, and the Health Service Executive warns that if the needs of those currently getting help change, and they require greater support, there can be no certainty that it will be given.
The immediate impact will be on hospitals. We can expect to see an increase in delayed discharges and, yet again, more patients on trolleys in hospital corridors.
In a predictable response, the Government and the HSE point repeatedly to the increased funding the service has had, but it’s clear the increase has been insufficient to meet both the rising demand that comes with an ageing population and the cost of new contract terms (helpers will be paid for the time it takes them to travel to homes).
We, as a society, and the Government, in the way it chooses to raise money and spend it, have to accept that the requirement for home care is an unavoidable consequence of unalterable demographic changes, that it’s
a vital social and health service that keeps people in their communities for as long as possible, and that it has been, and continues to be, under-funded. Failing to face these facts will simply shift the problem — and the costs — back to the acute health services.