Inspection of Home Carers Urgent: Law Reform Commission Urges

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Professional carers and home helps looking after elderly people and other vulnerable individuals at home must be regulated and subject to inspections, the Government’s independent legal advisers have warned.

The Law Reform Commission is today publishing draft laws it says would bring such staff, whether HSE, voluntary or privately employed, under the watch of HIQA, the state agency that already monitors standards in private and public nursing homes and other residential institutions.

The 130-page commission report points out that the policy of successive governments in recent times has been to encourage more older people to remain living at home for longer, rather than entering full-time residential care.

Yet, despite the growing popularity of professional home help and home care packages to support independent living at home, and the increasing number of commercial companies offering these services, the commission notes: "There is an absence of a regulatory structure for the delivery of professional care in the home."

An RTÉ Prime Time investigation just over a year ago discovered shocking evidence of abuse, neglect, poor standards, sloppy practices and lack of training among home care workers who are trusted to assist some 65,000 older people every year. Older people’s charities such as Age Action, and an industry group, the Home Care Association, which represents a number of the bigger private home care companies, have been vocal in calling for regulation of the sector.

The issue is set to become more critical as the population ages.

The commission points out that the percentage of over-65s in the population has increased in every census since 1961 and that the percentage of people aged 65 and over is set to double from its current level of 11.4% to 22.4% in the next 30 years.

Among the commission’s recommendations are:

* HIQA be given statutory powers to regulate and inspect companies, organisations and individuals providing professional home care, whether the service is for fee or free. Informal care provided by family members would not be included.

* Regulation and inspection would extend beyond those providing care for older people to include care for anyone aged 18 or over receiving care in their own home whether because of age, disability, chronic illness or rehabilitation, for example, following an accident.

* All professional home carers would have to sign up to a specific register and agree to clearly defined inspection, complaints and investigation procedures.

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