The difficulty in securing home helps is adding to the trolley crisis, but maybe it’s time we made our entire communities more elderly-friendly, too?
PUBLIC representatives at county and national level are looking for a better deal for carers and home helps, and they also want to make our towns and villages more age-friendly.
Independent TD Michael Collins raised the issue of home helps in the Dáil before Christmas. He pointed out that in July – halfway through the scheme’s annual budget – there were approximately 7,300 people waiting on home support services.
The TD said the situation grew increasingly more difficult for people seeking the assistance of home helps before the end of 2019.
Deputy Collins told The Southern Star: ‘The majority of those waiting were already living in their own home, but there were others who couldn’t leave hospital until the necessary home care arrangements were put in place.’
Meanwhile, a response to a County Council motion tabled by Cllr Ben Dalton O’Sullivan (Ind) – which called for the introduction of a new national action plan to support carers – left the councillor feeling ‘disappointed.’
And at that meeting he tabled a second motion calling for ‘a strong set of agreed guidelines’ that communities could refer to make their towns and villages more age- and dementia-friendly.
The Council’s Niall Healy – the director of services for municipal district operations and rural development – pointed out that there is already in existence the Cork Age Friendly Country Strategy 2016 -2021.
Mr Healy said the strategy provides a framework within which the Cork County Older People’s Council and Cork County Council could work to ‘advocate for older people.’
As part of that strategy, Mr Healy said there are four age-friendly towns, and committees in Cork county including Bandon, Kinsale, Mitchelstown and Cobh.
He said the Council continued to work with these committees to implement age-friendly measures. And he said the lessons learned from the project would form the basis for the Older People’s Council’s guidelines in the future. For more information on this, he referred the Council members to www.agefriendlyireland.ie
In a second response to one of Cllr Dalton O’Sullivan’s motions, Noel Hegarty – a higher executive officer with the illness disability and carers policy division at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection – outlined the Government’s existing National Carer’s Strategy.
He said it is actually the Department of Health that has responsibility for the national strategy that governs future policies and supports, as well as the services that are to be provided by all of the government departments.
Mr Hegarty said the national strategy, which was first published in 2012, is designed to support older people, as well as children and adults with an illness or disability, to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities.
He said the strategy also aims to support carers to manage their own physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing, and to provide adequate information, training, services and supports.
In 2018, Mr Hegarty said Family Carers Ireland presented proposals to the Department of Health for a refreshed National Carer’s Strategy and Action Plan. And he confirmed that the Department of Health, in consultation with other departments, is looking at ‘potential future actions that could further implement the strategy.’
It is the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection that provides a range of income supports to those who are caring for family members, friends or neighbours and these include carer’s allowance, carer’s benefit, the carer’s support grant and domiciliary care allowance, all of which will exceed €1.2 bn in 2019.
A further allocation of €1.7m under the Dormant Accounts Action Plan 2018 was made for further training and 13 projects – including Cork – were selected to deliver training, information and support services for family carers.
Despite the level of detail provided, Cllr Dalton O’Sullivan said he was disappointed with the response and claimed to be ‘startled’ to learn that there has been a strategy in place since 2012.
‘It is now clear that the strategy has been completely ineffective,’ he stated after requesting that the Council immediately write back to the minister and demand further action.
The Independent councillor said he believes that four out of every five people – who are actually fulfilling the role of carer in this country – are not being paid an allowance.
Cllr Dalton O’Sullivan said: ‘We need a completely new strategy, an action plan that would tackle the real problems facing carers.
‘The amount of money that the exchequer and the health service is saving because of the care that over 355,000 unpaid carers are providing in their homes for their loved ones is phenomenal,’ he added.
‘This Government needs to face up to the very real crisis in care in this country. It must take urgent action to properly support some of the hardest working and dedicated people in this country – our family carers.’
On the issue of home helps, Deputy Michael Collins said he had pleaded with the Tánaiste to lift any embargo on the home help service and to increase the hourly allocations in 2020.
The Southern Star spoke to one man, who is wheelchair bound, and said he was now in dire need of the home help service.
The man said: ‘I was in Bantry General Hospital from mid-July to mid-November and couldn’t get out until I got a home help.’ After a six-week wait – and the assistance of Deputy Collins and the hospital staff – the man secured a home help, once a day for an hour, every evening.
Although now ‘back to normal’, the man said: ‘I still need help getting in and out of bed.’ He said he had help in the morning but needed home help support at night-time.
‘My home help is brilliant,’ he said. ‘It’s a very good service. I’d still be in hospital if I didn’t have the help.’
The man, who is in his mid-50s, said he is one of the lucky ones.
‘There are a lot of people out there who need home help and are finding it very hard to get the same. I would hope that with a new year, and a new budget, things would be better, but I don’t hold out much hope of that happening because of the way this country is going at the moment.’