Harney faces questions over home care regulations
Health Minister Mary Harney was facing calls today to explain the lack of regulation of companies caring for older people in their home and the shocking treatment some of their staff mete out.
A damning four month investigation uncovered appalling abuse of the sick and infirm by a number of private companies, including force feeding, theft and an absence of vetting of workers.
Healthcare organisations and rights campaigners have demanded statutory regulation and standards to protect thousands of vulnerable older people.
Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain said the minister has questions to answer.
"These appalling revelations demand immediate answers and immediate action from the minister for health and children," he said.
"I will be raising this scandal in the Dail and be calling for a special debate and real assurance to older people that they will not be prey to those whose only motive is greed and profit, a situation brought about by the Government's policy of privatising health and social services."
The Health Service Executive is to review the care provided to 65,000 older people in their own homes after the scandal was exposed.
The Home Care Association, which represents 50 private home care providers, said it agrees statutory regulation of the sector is badly needed.
The shocking extent of abuse was uncovered by RTE's Prime Time after an undercover investigation lasting four months. It exposed a lack of proper training, an older person given medicine by an unqualified carer, one person being force fed and another left to lie in a soiled bed.
Jan O'Sullivan, Labour's health spokeswoman, said: "I was horrified with what I saw, and my heart goes out to those people who we witnessed suffering degradation, humiliation and abuse at the hands of these so-called care providers."
She said problems in home care were a direct result of policies introduced by Mary Harney.
"In particular, her twin-track of approach of privatisation of services on the one hand and the moratorium on recruitment in the HSE on the other has created a situation where the HSE is simply not in a position to meet the demands that are being placed on them," she said.
"And where the slack has to be taken up by a sector that is completely unregulated; where workers are not vetted; and where there are no codes of conduct.
"It is clear that we need statutory regulation of this sector as a matter of urgency."
An HSE report last summer showed 1,870 allegations of abuse made by elderly people in 2009 - an increase of 30 cases on the previous year.
Age Action disputes those figures and warned that the real figure was anywhere between 14,000 and 24,000 instances of abuse against older people at some stage in their later years.
Eddie O'Toole, operations director of leading care company Bluebird Care, said the welfare of thousands of older people was being compromised by the continued lack of regulation.
"Ireland is at a crossroads in the way we, as a society, care for our older people," Mr O'Toole said.
Bluebird Care has 14 offices across Ireland providing care to hundreds of people in their homes.