The role of the carer in our society has never been as important as it is now. The demographics show that our population is living longer, and as a consequence care of the elderly is becoming a bigger and bigger challenge for our society.
A lot of carers look after elderly parents and relatives without a word of complaint. They want to do this work and they are saving the State a fortune. But there are people out there who want to stay in their own homes but who have nobody to look after them – and this is where there is a major problem.
A couple of months ago the shortage of home help hours was highlighted in several parts of the country. While the evidence on the ground was damning, there was a blanket denial by Minister Simon Harris and his Junior Minister Jim Daly that there were any cutbacks, indeed any shortage. Either they are hoping this problem goes away or they are not on top of their brief.
It goes without saying that it is far better to keep people in their own homes for as long as that can be achieved. The cost of doing so is a fraction of what it costs to keep people in acute hospitals and nursing homes. But that message doesn’t seem to be getting through to the Government or the HSE. I read this week where 146 people are awaiting home care packages in County Roscommon alone. That’s a lot of people to be affected.
Minister Harris and Minister of State Daly are in total denial with regard to the reduction in home help hours when the HSE figures (and those above) show the true position.
It’s a vicious circle. We have acute hospital beds being clogged up by elderly patients who are ready to be discharged but who cannot leave because if they return home there is no home care package available to help them survive and live independently.
I was reading last week about an 81-year-old woman in Sligo who was discharged from hospital recently after a broken leg and life-saving surgery. Her home care package was 15 minutes per day! The most efficient home care worker in the world would hardly have taken off their coat before they would have to leave again. It just makes no sense at all.
But it’s a symbol of the chaos in our health service at the moment and it would appear that there is no one able to sort it out. Last week we had people bringing in sandwiches to hospitals because support staff were on strike. We have a situation where there are 487 consultant vacancies throughout the country, and people wonder why there are hospital waiting lists.
Yet, the home care situation is one that can be solved with extra staff and extra funding. Getting it right will actually save hundreds of millions of euro in the long run. Surely Simon Harris and his officials can solve this problem at least. We owe it to our elderly to try to ensure that they can stay in their own homes for as long as possible. Get it sorted now and stop pretending that there isn’t a problem there.