Patients 'being told they must wait for someone to die to receive home help'
More than 7,000 waiting for funding or additional supports
People have been told they will have access to home help hours only if somebody else in their community dies, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has claimed.
More than 7,000 are now waiting for home help supports, including many who are effectively trapped in hospitals.
The HSE has committed to providing an extra 800,000 home help hours this year - but the numbers waiting is growing every month.
Figures obtained by Mr Martin show 7,217 people were waiting for funding for new or additional home supports at the end of June. This is a rise of almost 1,000 from March.
In correspondence with the Fianna Fáil leader, the HSE said: "Despite the significant level of service provision, the demand for home support continues to grow as the population aged over 65 years increases.
"All those waiting are assessed and provided with a service, if appropriate, as soon as possible having regard to their assessed needs."
However, Mr Martin told the Irish Independent that Health Minister Simon Harris was "at pains in June and July to say there was no shortage of home help".
He said that, despite repeated Government commitments, families found it "near impossible to get home help since May of this year".
"There are some who have been told that home help is only available if other people in their communities die and others have been kept in hospital until a home help becomes available.
"Even the Taoiseach said in June that he needed time to get around this issue yet people are still waiting."
Mr Martin called on the health minister "to get a handle on it urgently".
The HSE says hospital patients who are capable of returning home if they have care supports are "prioritised".
Their 2019 Service Plan provides funding for 17.9m home support hours to be delivered to 53,000 people.
This includes 410,000 hours under the Winter Initiative 2019/2020.
Asked to comment on the reported remarks from Mr Martin that some applicants for homecare will have to die before a slot become available, the HSE said the number of people in receipt of home support would vary constantly as people's needs changed.
"Hours are re-allocated for a number of reasons as people may require more or less support at a point in time, a person may no longer need any support if they fully recover from illness, a person might move to long term residential care or a person receiving home support might pass away.
"The HSE is funded to provide 17.9m home support hours to 53,000 people in 2019.
"If someone, for any reason, no longer requires home support, the hours are allocated to other people.
"To date in July, 272,147 more hours have been provided compared to same period last year," the spokeswoman said yesterday.
In the correspondence to Mr Martin from the HSE, it emerged preliminary data shows that of the hours provided in the first six months, a majority were outsourced.
The HSE said 3,799,054 hours were delivered directly compared with 4,792,489 which were delivered by external providers.
Home support staff who are directly employed by the HSE have traditionally been mainly park-time workers due to the nature and flexibility of the work.