Nurses dismiss ‘home help at 2012 levels’ claim

Health Minister James Reilly at the INMO conference in Co Donegal. Picture: Clive Wasson

A claim by the health minister that home-help and home care package services have been preserved at 2012 levels has been countered by nurses who cited examples of elderly and infirm patients who have had home support hours cut this year.

Mary Keenan, a public health nurse in Co Kildare, said she knew a woman in her 80s, with a handicapped daughter in her 50s, who had all their home help hours removed.

Ms Keenan said another patient of hers, a blind, insulin-dependent elderly man, had had his home care reduced to a 30 minutes a week.

She said patients were being “interrogated” by HSE officials when being assessed for home care packages.

“I mean interrogated about their lives, their finances, their homes, their relatives. Crying on the phone. I’m a public health nurse and I’ve been in tears for the last 10 years over home helps and home care assistants,” Ms Keenan told the 350 delegates attending the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) annual delegate conference in Letterkenny yesterday.

A second nurse, Gráinne Walsh from Co Waterford, said she knew a centenarian who had had her home help hours cut from seven to just over five hours a week.

Meanwhile, Mayo-based Patricia Barrett O’Boyle said a recent adjustment to home support hours to patients in her area was not notified in writing because nobody wanted to take responsibility for cutting back hours.

Patients had been phoned, but were not written to because if they were written to, “nobody could decide who would sign the deduction on paper”, she said.

She added that she was not notified of the cuts in hours and was left to find out from “the crows or the hens or something”.

“That’s how communication is going on at times in the home help office. There are decisions being made, but no responsibility taken,” she said.

In his speech, James Reilly outlined improvements in trolley figures and patient waiting times and in stroke treatment. He also announced that he is to appoint a chief nursing officer at the Department of Health, a post long requested by the INMO.

Dr Reilly said the post would be at assistant secretary level and the appointee would be a full member of the management advisory committee and would have executive authority to lead the nursing profession.

“In short, the voice of nursing will be heard and listened to at the highest level of planning as the future of our health service evolves.”

He also said discussions in relation to the proposed graduate recruitment programme — successfully boycotted by the INMO because pay levels would reduce those recruited through it by 20% — would resume.

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