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Irish carers to get national living wage and travel expenses in bid to ease HSE crisis

Irish carers are set to get the national living wage and transport expenses under a HSE plan expected to be finalised next month. The plan, which is part of a strategy to recruit homecare providers, targeting a shortage of staff in the sector, will be finalised on 30 April.

A spokesperson for Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler, said the new HSE home support tender for private and voluntary providers would be finalised shortly. 

The announcement follows the setting up of a cross-departmental Strategic Workforce Advisory Group by Minister Butler in March of last year. The Group was charged with examining strategic workforce challenges in publicly and privately provided front-line carer roles in home support and nursing homes and with making recommendations to address such challenges.

“It is Minister Butler’s intention that the forthcoming tender will reflect the recommendation that providers provide a national living wage and payment for time spent travelling between people’s homes, as agreed by the members of the Strategic Workforce Advisory Group including Home and Community Care Ireland,” a spokesperson for the Minister said this week. 

There is currently a HSE homecare waiting list of 6,000 people in Ireland – a clear indication of the difficulty relating to recruitment in the sector.

The crisis in the homecare sector was also seen in recent statistics showing that in January, despite a quota of 1,000 employment permits, only seven people have applied for a new work permit which permits carers from outside the EU to work in Ireland. Each permit lasts for two years and requires the carer to be paid a minimum annual salary of €27,000 based on a 39-hour week. 

Carers here have long advocated for change to how the private and voluntary care sector operates, with many struggling financially, exacerbated by the rising cost of living.

In late October, the Workforce Advisory Group on Home Carers and Nursing Home Healthcare Assistants claimed a carer shortage “militates against the reorientation of care into the community to which the Government is committed under Sláintecare”. 

The working group called for a greater number of homecare hours to be delivered by the HSE rather than through outsourcing as part of the answer to the current crisis.

Unattractive, badly paid and undervalued were among some of the terms used by the working group in a report published last September. The report called for a fundamental change in how homecare is viewed.

“Care-working has a poor reputation: it is considered unattractive, poorly remunerated, and under-valued,” the report outlined, while also highlighting a lack of young people in the profession, stating:

“The existing workforce is ageing: HSE data indicates that, in September 2021, 63% of home-support workers were aged 55 or over. This will result in a significant decrease in experienced staff over the coming years”.

The Working Group report also noted concerns that those receiving social welfare benefits were reluctant to take up part-time carer hours as they might lose benefits and overall end up with less money than they would without the hours.

Last month, Home & Community Care Ireland (HCCI), the national membership organisation for companies that provide home care in Ireland, said that the long waiting list could be wiped out “instantly” if home care workers were allowed to take on more hours.

The organisation called for Minister for Social Protection in Ireland, Heather Humphreys, to allow a temporary suspension of social welfare earning thresholds to allow home carers work just three more hours per week without losing social welfare benefits.

HCCI CEO Joseph Musgrave explained that by allowing 6,000 carers to take on three additional hours per week, one million more home care hours could be delivered this year alone.

“With a simple stroke of the Minister’s pen the waiting list would be wiped out! In addition, if the Government were to action this, there would be no recruitment crisis in home care and furthermore the Government would be able to meet its home care targets this year,” he said.

Mr Musgrave said that it was “mind boggling” that people are languishing on hospital trolleys, awaiting a bed, while people who are well enough to be discharged and return home await home care support. 

“If home care workers could work three more hours each week without risk of losing their medical card or social welfare payments this serious problem would be resolved,” he said, as he appealed for change, adding that “capacity and willingness” is not lacking:

“We know from speaking to our members that home care workers are willing to take on additional hours. So, the capacity and willingness are there – it’s up to the Minister now to make it happen and give older and more vulnerable people the support they need to stay living in their own homes.”

While reservations have been voiced about how Minister Butler’s plan will be monitored, the Minister is said to be confident that the HSE will have the resources to monitor both service delivery and performance. 

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