Saturday 21 April 2018

Clogged hospitals now face shortage of home care staff

Health Minister Simon Harris Picture: Steve Humphreys
Health Minister Simon Harris Picture: Steve Humphreys
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Hospitals trying to stem severe overcrowding are facing a new stumbling block due to the failure to secure enough staff to provide home care packages for patients ready for discharge.

Although an extra €5m has been allocated to buy more home packages with the trolley crisis at record levels, it emerged it may be difficult to spend all the funding on the service.

The setback comes as 649 patients across the country were again enduring delays for a bed yesterday, a slight fall on Monday's all-time record of 714. Hospitals in Limerick and Cork were again overwhelmed as staff hunted for beds.

Commenting on the €5m funding, Michael Harty of the home care company Home Care Direct said, while it was welcome, the industry had its own capacity issues.

There are growing waiting lists for home care packages because of problems finding staff.

He said: "The reality is that the sector cannot cope with existing demand, let alone an additional €5m worth of care to resource.

"The reason for this is simple, agencies are finding it impossible to recruit and retain carers because of poor pay, zero-hour contracts, and offering precious little career pathways.

"Unless we start to make caring a more attractive career and become more innovative in how home care is delivered, home care will never be able to play its full role in health care.

"There are over 500 patients in hospital ready for discharge and many of them could leave if they got a suitable home care package, freeing up beds."

Health Minister Simon Harris called off his St Patrick's Day trip to Belgium and the Netherlands saying it would not "feel right" to travel at a time of crisis.

Speaking in Washington, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was in constant contact with the Health Minister on the issue.

Mr Varadkar said he had been notified of Mr Harris's decision to cancel his trip and believed he made the "right decision".

Mr Varadkar added: "I am in touch with Simon Harris on a daily basis, he contacted me this morning to say that, given that the scale of overcrowding in our emergency departments and hospitals at the moment, that he was cutting short his trip.

"So I think he has made the right decision in terms of staying at home.

"I will be continuing with my work here which has been scheduled for quite some time," he said.

Irish Independent

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