Harney warned a year ago on home care regulations
HEALTH Minister Mary Harney was warned over a year ago that a lack of regulation of private home care services could lead to "elder abuse".
And although draft guidelines were ready two years ago, their implementation was slowed down by the "high number of structures involved in making decisions" in the health service.
The warning came in a report by the National Economic and Social Forum (NESC), which raised concerns about under-training and supervision of home care packages, as well as a lack of garda vetting of some workers in the Government's home care scheme.
"This issue, as well as that around training of home care support workers, does have the potential to lead to elder abuse, another concern raised in some submissions," the report warned.
The annual budget for these home care and help services is €340m.
The effects of lax regulation were also highlighted in RTE's 'Prime Time Investigates' documentary which has led to a review by the HSE of all 65,000 home care packages.
Figures yesterday showed three firms received more than €10.5m in funding from the HSE to provide carer services to the elderly over three years to 2009.
One firm -- Clontarf Home Care Service -- received more than €8m.
The programme has already led to 52 calls to the HSE and nine complaints from clients and their families.
The revelations also resulted in a flood of calls for regulation in the industry while Ms Harney came under pressure to explain why these services were not being monitored properly.
Although Home Care Packages has been in place since 2006, there are still no standard national guidelines on how to deliver and regulate them.
The NESC report said: "Problems were also reported with the management and training of paid home care support workers, and also with the high number who could be caring for one individual, and the handovers between those home care support workers."
Inclusion Ireland called for the immediate introduction of inspections. "It would cost about €10m -- a quarter of what AIB was due to pay in bonuses," said the charity's executive Deirdre Carroll.
Other charities said regulation was the direct responsibility of the Government. "In the absence of regulation, the State is saying that older people and their families have to work out which are good and which are not," said Age Action Ireland spokesman Eamon Timmins.
The NESC report also pointed out that draft guidelines for Home Care Packages, including rights, protection, home care support needs, staffing, governance and management issues, had actually been approved in October 2008.
The Department of Health said these guidelines were due to be published and implemented in the first half of next year.
The issue of regulation was also raised in the Dail yesterday, with Labour leader Eamon Gilmore lashing the Government's "dedication to privatising the health service".
Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the cases highlighted in the TV programme were "not acceptable and not welcome".
He did not give an exact date for when guidelines on home care services would be introduced but only said they would be brought forward "very quickly".
He also said guidelines had to be introduced before statutory regulation, but added regulation had to be looked at "as a matter of urgency".