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'No plan' for carers or those who need care when they get tested for Covid-19

“If I could do this alone I would, it would be better than dealing with the system,” one family carer said.

Image: Shutterstock/CGN089

WHEN HER FATHER was sampled for Covid-19, Mary* was left to care for both her parents by herself, as the carers stopped coming to her home.

For six days, she was left to look after her 84-year-old father, who has dementia, and her 81-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer’s, cannot walk, and is non-verbal.

This care involved lifting her mother out of bed to change her bedpan. 

“If I could do this alone I would, it would be better than dealing with the system,” she told TheJournal.ie. “But I can’t physically move Mam.”

According to several family carers, there appears to be no plan for how to give home care for vulnerable people who are tested for Covid-19, or confirmed to have Covid-19.

When her father became sick, Mary rang their GP, who suggested erring on the side of caution and getting him tested for Covid-19. But neither had realised that this would result in the agency pulling all care from the home.

Because her parents are seen to already have their daughter as a family carer, her family wasn’t seen as a priority, she said.

I’ve been caring full time for six years. It’s quite a degrading process – you have to justify everything you’re doing, why you need help.

They had 28 hours of care a week for both parents, she said, which was reduced to no care at all for the six days that Mary’s father was waiting for his test results. Luckily, a friend of Mary’s was available to help her for several days.

After that, their care was partially returned.

Mary said that although their care has now been returned, she wonders what the policy is now for other families – as far as she can tell, nothing has changed since this incident in mid-April.

“They don’t know what the plan is, we’re a month on and nothing is clearer.”

She said this is dangerous – if family carers fear that care for their loved ones will be pulled if they get themselves or their loved one tested, it could lead to people avoiding reporting their symptoms.

“No way I wouldn’t get dad tested for the carers’ sakes,” she says.

But if this gets out, [family carers] will be fearful that their care will be dropped. I know [not getting tested is] the wrong thing to do, but they have nowhere else to turn to.
When there’s a suspected case in nursing homes, they don’t pull care.

Paul Reid’s promise

The issue of home care and respite care has been raised before during the lockdown imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.  

It’s understood that a number of organisations withdraw home care once Covid-19 is suspected, and a decision is made on a case-by-case basis on how to continue to care for the person.

Responding to some of those concerns, CEO of the HSE Paul Reid said that it was a “difficult” issue to resolve.

Reid said they were putting supports in place for carers who can self isolate elsewhere if they can’t self isolate at home, and that PPE would be made available to them. 

Speaking in the Dáil last week, Social Democrat leader Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health about this issue, where “a person in receipt of home care has suspected Covid, there are delays in getting the test and delays in getting a new team of carers into that situation”.

She also raised this scenario: “A lot of families were nervous about home care workers coming in and asked for the service to be suspended. Now, several weeks down the road, those families cannot cope any longer and want the service reinstated, and there seems to be delays with that. Some action is needed there fairly quickly.”

In reply, Minister Simon Harris: “I will come back to the Deputy on home care. I was not familiar with testing delays there. Regarding the reinstatement of services, that is a fair point.

“People might believe they need their service back after being nervous. I will try to get a sense of the numbers in that regard,” he added. 

HSE Response

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the HSE said: “Home Support services for older people are provided either by directly employed staff or by voluntary and private providers who have formal tender arrangements with the HSE to deliver the services.

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“The type of support provided includes personal care and, where appropriate, essential household duties relating to the client’s assessed needs.

Where Health Care Workers, including Home Care Workers, require a test, they are prioritised for Covid-19 testing and there is no delay in scheduling a test appointment.
Where a person in receipt of Home Support requires a test this is also the case.

“The Home Support staff will be in contact with their employer, (either HSE or Private/Voluntary Provider), to advise them on the course of action to be followed.

“The HSE in conjunction with the Private/Voluntary providers of Home Support will endeavour to continue to provide the service throughout this period, where possible, with priority to be given to those most vulnerable in the community.

“The HSE is working with providers and community staff to identify where service is most required, and where for the benefit of residents at home, their carers, families and staff, a prioritisation of service will be made available so as to, where possible, comply with the requirements of physical distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.   

“Work has progressed with community and voluntary agencies, to ensure that vulnerable people in the community remain supported throughout this period, including the provision of telecalls, groceries, medication, Meals on Wheels etc.

“The HSE acknowledges the valuable role of residential care providers, their staff, home support workers and providers across the services in supporting older people and their care groups throughout this difficult period.”

The Department of Health said in a statement: 

“The Minister has been assured when all Health Care Workers, including Home Care Workers, require a test, they are prioritised for Covid-19 testing and there is no delay in scheduling a test appointment.

“Where a person in receipt of Home Support requires a test this is also the case.”

*Mary’s name has been changed in order to conceal her identity.

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