HSE restricts access to home helps

A HSE service vital to ensuring that elderly people can remain in their homes has been largely closed to new applicants until next November at a time when there are more than 6,000 people on waiting lists.

HSE restricts access to home helps

A HSE service vital to ensuring that elderly people can remain in their homes has been largely closed to new applicants until next November at a time when there are more than 6,000 people on waiting lists.

In addition, if the needs of those currently receiving a service change and they require greater support, the HSE cannot guarantee it will be provided.

The restrictions will put further pressure on acute hospital services as the restrictions will exacerbate the problem of delayed discharges.

The HSE attributed the restrictions to a new nationally negotiated contract which will see health care support assistants (formerly known as home helps), paid for the time it takes them to travel to people’s homes.

Each of the nine community healthcare organisations is expected to meet the additional costs from their home support services budget.

A HSE spokesperson said that while the budget “increased in 2019, that increase will not allow us to deliver an overall increase in the number of hours of care delivered, because the cost of delivering the service has increased”.

“In order to balance the budget for 2019, there will be a reduction in the level of new hours [not existing hours] provided, compared to early 2019,” said a HSE spokesperson said.

“This will continue until early November.”

Louise O'Reilly
Louise O'Reilly

Sinn Féin health spokes-woman Louise O’Reilly said the action was “effectively an unofficial ban” on offering the service to those on waiting lists.

“It 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,” said Ms O’Reilly.

Moreover, it was at odds with the principles of Sláintecare, where the focus is on shifting care from the acute sector to the community,” she said.

Jim Daly, the minister of state with responsibility for older people, said the home help budget had grown “50% in the past three years”.

He said demand was “clearly outpacing supply” and the way to deal with it was to introduce a home support scheme on a statutory basis, similar to Fair Deal, the nursing home support scheme.

Mr Daly said they hoped to have developed a template for what this scheme would look like by the end of the year and that there would “probably be some form of co-payment”. Home support services are currently free.

The Irish Examiner asked the HSE to quantify the number of “new” or “additional” hours it will provide in 2019, but it failed to do so.

The HSE said: “Between now and early November, we will have to restrict the number of new or additional hours allocated.

The home support service will still be allocating some new hours, but not as many as we would like. We do not expect that there will be any change for current clients [if their needs have not changed].

The HSE also confirmed that there would be a reduction in the amount of “recycling” or reallocating of hours, where people did not take up offer of home support.

In relation to supporting hospital discharges, the spokesperson said home support hours “will still be provided… but again there may be [a] reduction in the amount of new hours provided”.

The HSE said its home support service “is continuing to deliver a sizeable service of millions of hours of support”.

As of last August, there were 6,285 people waiting for funding for new or additional home support services, according to the HSE’s response to a parliamentary question.

In 2019, the HSE will provide 17.9m home support hours to 53,000 people.

The service is available to the over 65s, and it assists with everyday tasks such as getting in and out of bed, showering, shaving, and dressing.

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