'Shocking' TV footage sparks HSE probe
The HSE is to conduct a nationwide review of the home care provided to more than 60,000 older people after an undercover investigation found "shocking" treatment of elderly clients by a number of home-care providers.
The RTE 'Prime Time Investigates' programme, broadcast last night, uncovered companies hiring workers with no training, no garda vetting and no checking of references.
The four-month investigation also included footage, filmed secretly, of a distressed elderly woman being force fed by a care worker and another incident of a carer threatening her if she did not take her medication.
The industry remains unregulated and agencies are not legally bound to vet staff. There are an estimated 150 companies providing such care in Ireland, compared to 10 a decade ago.
The 'Prime Time' programme showed Jennifer Sarsfield, who runs a Dublin-based care agency, repeatedly coaching carers to lie to clients about how much experience they had.
Slow-release tablets, which should be swallowed whole to deliver the medication properly, were broken down and mixed with food by a carer from Clontarf Home Care Services.
Dr Stephen Compton, a consultant in psychiatry of old age, said some of the treatment of the elderly on the programme was "demeaning and humiliating". He said the force-feeding example verged on assault and was "abusive".
Minister for Older People Aine Brady said last night it was clear that the behaviour and practices highlighted by the programme breached the trust between care providers and recipients "in an unacceptable way".
But she did not agree that lack of regulation was at fault. "I would not say that lack of regulation is the sole cause of what we saw," she said, adding lack of training was a key issue.
Ms Brady said the HSE was to implement initiatives to strengthen governance in the home-care area, including the introduction of standard guidelines and a voluntary code for home-care providers in 2011.
A spokesman for Clontarf Home Care Services confirmed that three staff members had been suspended, on full pay, pending a full investigation. One worker was suspended four days before RTE made its allegations, after the agency became concerned about the standard of her work.
The spokesman, speaking before the programme was aired, criticised 'Prime Time' for failing to allow the agency view the material before it was broadcast, unless the owners agreed to take part in the programme.
In a statement, the HSE said it was "taking seriously" the concerns raised in the programme. The organisations have been contacted and a review of contractual arrangements was under way.
Meanwhile, the Home Care Association (HCA) stressed that none of its members were featured on 'Prime Time' and all were externally audited before starting work.
HCA president Ed Murphy said his association had been calling for statutory regulation for years. He welcomed the fact that the HSE was in the process of carrying out a home-care tender designed to ensure compliance with a set of minimum standards for people who receive home-care packages.
The organisation Friends of the Elderly said it had "serious concerns" about the lack of training among some home-care attendants. Among the issues raised in complaints to the organisation were verbal abuse, lack of basic hygiene skills and neglect.