HOME helps protesting outside University Hospital Limerick have said pressure on the emergency department is directly linked to cutbacks to community services.
A demonstration at the hospital was organised by Siptu in support of home helps - the vast majority of them women - who have borne the brunt of cuts in community care budgets in an era of austerity.
Margaret Mulvihill, a home help from Dooradoyle, commented:“People are stuck on trolleys and we know we can help. There are many people in hospital beds who,with the correct support, can return home and be cared for by the home help service.
“However, cutbacks in our service mean that for increasing numbers this is not a viable option. We want to get the message to the public that home helps are here in the local community and we are ready willing and able to work”.
Siptu have pointed to HSE figures showing that the executive has cut home help hours by 23% since 2008. And over the last six years, there has been a 14% cut in the numbers employed as home helps in Limerick.
The union asserts that underemployment is now a common feature for many of HSE home helps who remain working in the city and county.
According to Siptu, almost seven in 10 home helps now work less than 20 hours a week and around 80% are looking for more hours. With the cost of a bed in an acute hospital conservatively estimated at €800 per night, home helps are prepared to step in a and help take pressure off hospitals and save the health service money.
Siptu organiser, Margaret Young, said: “A lack of available hospital beds is a crucial factor in this worsening crisis. However, there are currently 800 patients waiting to be discharged from hospitals across the state.”
She added: “The crisis in our hospitals is integrally linked to the running down of health services within our communities. Nearly three million hours have been cut from home help services since 2008, with cutbacks only coming to a halt after a concerted campaign by our union.”
While Health Minister Leo Varadkar has stressed the problem of delayed discharges in winter overcrowding, Limerick Fine Gael TDs Kieran O’Donnell and Dan Neville have said the A&E in Dooradoyle also suffers from basic capacity issues.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, meanwhile, counted 37 patients waiting to be admitted on trolleys in the emergency department or on wards around UHL on Monday - the highest number in the country.