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Half of older people in nursing homes could live at home, say social workers

Posted June 07, 2016

  • Significant gaps in provision of home care supports for older people
  • Delays in discharge in half of cases due to inability to access home supports

Social workers believe as many as 50 per cent of older people in nursing homes could live at home if the appropriate services were available, according to a new study.

The research also found that home care services are underfunded and disorganised, and there is a significant lack of provision of social work and home care supports for older people across the country.

The study was jointly produced by the UCD School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, the Irish Association of Social Workers, Age Action and the Alzheimer Society of Ireland.

“Home care in Ireland is in crisis,” said Dr Sarah Donnelly, UCD School of Social Work, Social Policy and Social Justice, who is one of the authors of the report.

“Acute hospitals and nursing homes are being prioritised over the kinds of community services that enable older people to stay home.

“This means more people in acute hospitals who don’t need to be there. It means more people in nursing homes who don’t need to be there.”

The study found that almost 30 per cent of social work cases in acute hospitals in June 2015 were medically ready for discharge but were awaiting supports to be put in place.

Delays in discharge were most (48 per cent of cases) likely to be due to inability to access home supports rather than long-term care.

Medical social workers surveyed reported that they were “unable” to access some of the most commonly requested home care supports, such as home help, home care assistant, intensive home care packages and nighttime supervision.

Social workers also reported that an older person living in the community could wait up to a year after they applied to get the home help service.

The (opens in a new window)Health Service Executive (HSE) is spending less now on home support services than it did in 2008. The HSE spent €331m on home care packages in 2008 and €320m in 2015. This is despite a 25 per cent increase in the numbers of people aged 65 and over and those living with complex conditions, such as dementia.

The report recommended that the government provides an annual ring-fenced budget for community care.

The research is based on a nationwide survey of social workers working with older people, including people with dementia. Some 38 social workers completed the survey, reporting on the experiences of 788 older people.

More than 20 of those social workers also took part in an in-depth interview process on their experience of home help and home care services.

The report was jointly produced by the UCD School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, the (opens in a new window)Irish Association of Social Workers(opens in a new window)Age Action and the (opens in a new window)Alzheimer Society of Ireland.

The study is entitled ‘I’d Prefer To Stay At Home, But I Don’t Have A Choice: Meeting Older People’s Preference For Care: Policy, But What About Practice?

By: Jamie Deasy, digital journalist, UCD University Relations