An Irish man living with multiple sclerosis (MS) says that he fears being moved to a nursing home after he had his home care removed last week due to a shortage of staff.
48-year-old Gavin Fannin, who has lived with MS since the age of 23, told told RTÉ Radio One’s Liveline programme that he was now “very scared” of being moved into a nursing home.
His care package was being delivered from the HSE through a private provider, and up until last week, involved four visits daily by two carers, amounting to 41 hours of care per week. His carers would get him out of bed in the morning, shower and dress him, give him his medication, and put him to bed at night, he said.
Mr Fannin’s care is provided by Home Instead, who informed him in late September that they would have to remove his care hours because the homecare sector was facing an “immediate and growing staff crisis”. It is believed Mr Fannin’s home care provider is struggling to recruit staff due to a visa programme that was given to nursing homes meaning that those who work in care homes will now receive a residency visa in Ireland after two years.
One of the causes behind the steady increase in resignations is believed to be the Department of Enterprise’s decision in June to exclude home carers from the critical skills exemption to non-EEA employment permit system. The decision has reportedly heightened the already present shortage of skilled staff to work in the home care sector.
Now, Mr Fannin, still only in his forties, fears that the new shortage of home carers could mean he is at risk of joining the hundreds of younger people who have been sent to live in nursing homes, when otherwise, their care would have been provided at home.
He believes that the new rules make the nursing home sector more appealing to forreign workers, and the promise of Irish residency has had the unintended effect of taking staff away from home care roles, which crucially enable people with additional needs to keep living in their own homes.
“For one reason or another the providers of the care claimed that they didn’t have enough staff to provide the care so I’m just at a loss here, I just don’t know where to turn,” he said.
“I get two carers and I have to be hoisted out of bed and they will put me into the shower, dress me, hoist me into my wheelchair then feed me and give me medications. I’m pretty helpless at the moment there’s very little I can do for myself.”
A devastated Mr Fannin told Liveline that he received less than two days notice: “I got notice on Wednesday evening that the entire service would be cut on Friday. Now not even like two calls a day. Everything was gone.”
“I spent quite a long time in hospital during last year and the start of this year where we were waiting to get more hours and they were eventually granted even though social workers and others told me that they would never be granted.”
He also said he feels as though he is being “pushed and cornered” into a nursing home. “They seem to have been granted because of the Ombudsman report into almost 1,500 people in Ireland under the age of 50 who have been put into nursing homes. The report was titled ‘Wasted Lives’ and that’s exactly what is going on and it seems that I’m just being pushed and cornered into a nursing home,” he said.
Mr Fannin was referring to the Ombudsman Peter Tyndall’s report ‘Wasted Lives: Time for a better future for younger people in nursing homes’ in May, which identified at least 1,300 young people with a disability living in nursing homes that are not appropriate to their requirements.
Mr Fannin added that he is “scared” and although he loves his country, he cannot understand what is happening in Ireland and why the “most vulnerable in our society are literally being left to die.”
“I’ve had MS for 25 years and I’ve dealt with all the ups and downs but right now I’m really scared because there’s nobody. I’m an Ireland fan, I love the country. But I can’t understand what’s happening here that the most vulnerable in our society are literally being left to die.”
He added: “There are people today right now lying in their own faeces because they have no carers. I don’t want to start pointing the finger. I just want a solution today.” Other people contacted Liveline experiencing similar problems, suffering the knock-on impact of home care hours being withdrawn. Some placed the blame with the new scheme for care home workers, while others attributed the staffing crisis to poor pay and conditions for home care workers, the majority of whom are employed through agencies.
Mr Fannin also told the programme that his mental health will be undoubtedly impacted, seeing as his home care is absolutely “essential” for his mental wellbeing and that the structure and care stops him from falling into depression.
“This home care is absolutely essential because without it I would just go into a massive depression. They come in at nine in the morning, one o’clock in the afternoon, six o’clock in the evening and nine o’clock at night all for one-hour visits.”
He said that he does not want to have to go into hospital, and “certainly not a care home” and that his home care plan prevented that from happening.
“I’m up at nine and I’m in bed at nine. It’s not ideal but it’s the best situation I can have because hospitals are totally overwhelmed, I don’t want to be going into hospital and certainly not a care home that’s for sure.
“There are only two care homes in Kildare that people under 50 can go to. Every other care home is for people aged 65 and over. I can’t even afford a nursing home – yes, the Government will pay for a roof and a bed but everything else is extra in a nursing home. Haircuts, entertainment and transport. You get invoiced every week for that.”
Presently, Mr Fannin is receiving help from family and friends. His brother, David Fannin, has had to get time off work to care for him over the weekend, while a couple of friends are helping to feed him and put him to bed.
“I’m very scared. I’ve no care today. I’ve two friends coming over tonight to feed me and put me into bed,” Mr Fannin said.
He also said that he is not the only one affected, and that hundreds of people in Ireland have no care, causing huge distress:
“I’m not the only person here, there are hundreds of people around the country this very minute who have no care. Families are pulling their hair out and people are terrified.”
Mr Fannin said that to tackle the problem, working conditions must be improved for healthcare workers, and that the Covid crisis had taught him that the lowest paid, frontline workers turned out to be the most important in Irish society.
“The one thing that Covid has taught me through this whole pandemic is that frontline, lowest paid workers, turned out to be the most important workers in our society.”
He added: “We need to improve conditions, if you can’t pay them more then conditions need to be better and then there won’t be a staff shortage.”
The HSE has since responded, with a spokesperson stating that it continues to work towards increasing provision for home support. The spokesperson said that at the end of September, 53,335 people had received over 15 million hours of home support so far this year.
“This is approximately 2.2 million more hours compared to the same period last year,” the HSE said.
“There can be delays between funding approval and delivery of home support hours, largely due to staffing issues, with particular local areas experiencing increased pressures. Challenges in capacity have resulted in increased number of clients assessed and waiting for carers to be assigned to commence their service.
“Efforts are ongoing to meet the demand for home support services. The HSE continues to advertise on an ongoing basis for Health Care Assistants and recruits as many suitable candidates, where possible. Approved Home Support Providers also continue to recruit home support workers, despite ongoing challenges.”
“The HSE does not want to deplete any health service employees in the private or public sector and is not targeting staff from nursing homes. The HSE advertises posts in a transparent and open way and candidates who consider they meet the criteria are eligible to apply,” the spokesperson added.
The spokesperson also said that the Department of Health is committed to taking practical action and collaboration to solve the problem: “In addition, the Department of Health is committed to establishing a Strategic Workforce Advisory Group with involvement of key stakeholders including representatives from the sector, education and government. The Group will provide a forum for practical action and collaboration aimed at addressing the skills needs of the sector including recruitment, retention, pay and conditions, skills development and sustainable employment into the future.”