Fair Deal scheme: Home help a necessity, not a choice

PLANS to extend the Fair Deal scheme to allow older people be cared for in their own homes suggests that the Government has finally woken up to the blindingly obvious: home care is better, easier, more compassionate and, in fact, cheaper than the alternative of nursing homes or hospitals.

As Seán Moynihan, chief executive of the charity Alone, pointed out recently, home care packages cost in the region of €400 a week whereas keeping someone in an acute hospital bed costs €7,000, almost 20 times more.

He was commenting on the plight of a 92-year-old woman from Mayo who had recovered from a broken pelvis but had to be kept in hospital for almost a year because, although her home care package had been approved, there was no funding for it due to HSE cuts.

The HSE defended those cuts by saying that the Galway, Mayo and Roscommon area had been providing home care supports “in excess of the funded levels of service” and it was now required to bring the level of service and expenditure back “into equilibrium” with allocated budgets.

The mind doesn’t just boggle at such institutional heartlessness; it positively fries.

As our report today shows, Helen McEntee, the Minister Responsible for Older People, wants to extend the Fair Deal nursing home scheme to home care packages. While she understands the urgency of the situation, she acknowledges that extending the scheme to home care has legal and other implications and will, therefore, take some time.

But time, very often, is not something that the elderly in need have in abundance. Neither is it something that we have, as a society. Ireland’s populaiton is growing older and people are living longer. It is estimated that the number of people over 60 will double in the next ten years and quadruple in the next 20.

Considering the urgency of the situation, the worst thing the Government and its health service could do is cut back on the home care packages that already exist. But that is exactly what is happening.

Instead of cutting back on home help hours, they should be expanded in line with demand. Age Action recently highlighted the crisis in community care and their latest report detailed that half of their clients in nursing homes, or on the waiting list for nursing homes, could be at home if the proper supports were provided for them.

Many elderly people could be at home, where they want to be, where their families want them to be and where Government policy says they should be, but there is no joined-up thinking between the HSE and the Department of Health.

Fianna Fáil has introduced a Bill in the Dáil to make home care packages a statutory right. That’s all very well but, considering the parliamentary machinations involved, will take time. Extending the current Home Help scheme can and should be done immediately.

There will always be frail and ill elderly people who will need institutional care but that should be the exception rather than the norm. Home, after all, is where the heart is.


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