Paddy O’Brien, one of the country’s foremost crusaders on behalf of the elderly, said the difficulties people are experiencing accessing home help are “worse now” than he has ever seen.
“I’ve been doing work with the elderly for more than 50 years and people are saying to me ‘I’m afraid to get sick.’ The situation was never worse than it is now,” Mr O’Brien said.
"What happens when they are discharged from hospital and left on their own in their homes to administer their own medication, to light the fire? People will die in their own homes."
Mr O’Brien, the driving force behind the Over 60s competition, one of the largest talent shows for the elderly, was commenting after the HSE admitted introducing restrictions to its home support services that will remain in place until next November.
The HSE said its 2019 budget “does not allow us to deliver the same number of hours as last year” and that “there will, unfortunately, be some reduction in the number of hours provided in the coming months”.
“This will mean that for a period of months [until November] we will be allocating less new service than previously.”
More than 6,300 people are on waiting lists for home support.
Mr O’Brien said a lot of the elderly people he deals with “get 20 minutes' home help a week, it’s miserable”.
Joseph Musgrave, CEO of Home and Community Care Ireland, which represents private home care providers, said the HSE could save money by outsourcing more home help work to private and not-for-profit providers:
The private and non-profit providers were locked into a contract for two years, with tendered prices frozen until August 2020. Why wouldn’t you outsource more work if it is cheaper?
The HSE is also reducing the number of hours it “recycles” - when a client no longer requires home support and those hours are then offered to another client.
Neither has it ruled out reducing the number of hours of home support available to people discharged from hospital.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke show yesterday, Helen Rochford Brennan, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and whose husband has ongoing serious illness, said she receives limited home help despite her own condition and her husband's poor health.
The Sligo woman who campaigns on behalf of people with Alzheimer's said she needs help with cooking and recipes - she previously used her bare hands to take a roasting hot tin out of the oven: "We are not looked at as individuals. Our stories are not looked at."
Jim Daly, minister with responsibility for older people, said home support supply can not keep up with demand.
He said there is "no question" of a freeze on the services.