Tuesday 17 September 2019

Laura Larkin: 'Shortage of homecare will emerge as key issue in the next general election'


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Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

The extensive report into why people are being left in hospital longer than they need to be shows there are often complex reasons at the heart of the delays and the very least we could do is make sure we understand the problem.

Expert Graham Knowles was tasked with helping us understand what it is that is keeping people in hospitals unnecessarily - it is often the last place they need to be - and how we can address this.

The report has pointed to a number of key issues: the complexity of the Fair Deal process with which many families around the country will identify, resourcing issues, a lack of suitable beds and delays in homecare packages being put in place to allow patients to return home.

The report also notes an unwillingness to co-operate with the Fair Deal scheme on the part of some families.

Whether this unwillingness is down to getting those families' preferred choice of nursing home or just a desire to keep their relative out of nursing homes for personal reasons is unclear.

What is clear, however, is the ineffective approach being taken to gathering data on this important issue - one that affects thousands of people in very serious ways and adds to the pressure on an already creaking health system.

It is, as the experts have all but pointed out, a folly to attempt to address a problem without being fully alive to the extent and depth of it.

The problem of so-called 'bed blockers' has been well known for a long time.

However, it is startling to think it has taken until now for us to learn we don't have enough information about what is really happening.

The report notes that families often have to make "life-changing" decisions and they need the time and space to cope with this.

Patients and families deserve to find themselves in a system where, when a loved-one ends up in hospital, there is a clear and concise range of routes out of it.

For a patient who does not have anyone looking out for their needs, the system should be able to respond and look after their interests.

The report has called for a co-ordinated response from all those involved - hospitals, community care facilities, nursing homes and homecare providers.

This would help identify demand and plan for it accordingly.

There are areas where there is an obvious need for investment. This is particularly true in the case of homecare, which looks set to emerge as a key election issue as demand outstrips supply in some regions of the country.

Skilled carers and funding to pay for them must become a priority in order to allow elderly people the freedom to live out their years at home, if it is what they want to do.

A promised new strategy in 2020 will feel a long way off for those in areas where funding cannot meet demand.

A more open way of dealing with families will hopefully help dispel the fear that their loved one is "safer" in hospital than they might be in another setting or at home with qualified help.

Irish Independent

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