Belfast Telegraph

Harney faces quiz over elderly care

Health Minister Mary Harney is facing calls to explain the lack of regulation of companies caring for older people in their home and the shocking treatment some of their staff mete out.

A damning four-month investigation uncovered appalling abuse of the sick and infirm by a number of private companies, including force feeding, theft and an absence of vetting of workers.

Healthcare organisations and rights campaigners have demanded statutory regulation and standards to protect thousands of vulnerable older people.

Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain said the minister has questions to answer. "These appalling revelations demand immediate answers and immediate action from the minister for health and children," he said. "I will be raising this scandal in the Dail and be calling for a special debate and real assurance to older people that they will not be prey to those whose only motive is greed and profit, a situation brought about by the Government's policy of privatising health and social services."

The Health Service Executive is to review the care provided to 65,000 older people in their own homes after the scandal was exposed.

The Home Care Association, which represents 50 private home care providers, said it agrees statutory regulation of the sector is badly needed.

The extent of abuse was uncovered by RTE's Prime Time after an undercover investigation lasting four months. It exposed a lack of proper training, an older person given medicine by an unqualified carer, one person being force fed and another left to lie in a soiled bed.

Jan O'Sullivan, Labour's health spokeswoman, said: "I was horrified with what I saw, and my heart goes out to those people who we witnessed suffering degradation, humiliation and abuse at the hands of these so-called care providers."

She said problems in home care were a direct result of policies introduced by Mary Harney. "In particular, her twin-track of approach of privatisation of services on the one hand and the moratorium on recruitment in the HSE on the other has created a situation where the HSE is simply not in a position to meet the demands that are being placed on them," she said.

The HSE said 52 people rang a helpline set up to answer concerns over home care services. Nine people made complaints as a result of the phone calls, the organisation said. "These are now being dealt with by the HSE to ensure that any issues arising are resolved as quickly as possible and that alternative arrangements are put in place for these clients, if necessary," the HSE said.

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