Community carers call for clarity on pandemic payment

A group representing community carers has called on the Government to follow up on their promise on the €1,000 pandemic bonus. 
Community carers call for clarity on pandemic payment

James Cox

A group representing community carers has called on the Government to follow up on their promise on the €1,000 pandemic bonus.

Fiacre Hensey, chief executive of the National Community Care Network (NCCN), told BreakingNews.ie that it is time for Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to "release the funds" to recognise the hard work of carers.

NCCN represents 20 community home care providers and 3,000 trained carers across Ireland.

They are calling on Mr Donnelly to clarify when carers not directly employed by the HSE will receive the €1,000 payment for frontline workers. HSE carers are getting the money, but not the carers who are subcontracted by the HSE.

"We have dribbles of information coming out confirming they will get it, but I want to see when they will get it. There's always a danger that they kick these things down the road, frankly speaking the real value of such a gesture is lost," said Mr Hensey.

"This was a golden opportunity to publicly acknowledge the contribution of carers across the country, delaying dispersing these funds, I don't understand why they make statements like this and forget about the follow-up."

He said the €1,000 is a lot of money for carers, adding that "a promise like this is huge for them".

Mr Hensey said delaying the payment shows a lack of respect for carers, adding that they are "very special people", and often the only human contact their clients have on a day-to-day basis.

"Money isn't the driver for them, the big thing is a passion for what they do, it goes unnoticed unless you have direct experience of a carer looking after one of your loved ones.

"You don't think about it, which is unfortunate. They're like a monitoring service. They may be paid to go in for a couple of hours a day, but if a client is unwell I've often heard of carers going back in the evening to check people are alright."

He added: "Why are they [Government] dragging their feet? I honestly don't know. I won't let it fall off the radar."

Early on in the pandemic, the slow speed of patients being discharged from acute hospitals was a major concern for public health and government officials.

Mr Hensey pointed out that cares play a major role in returning people to the community.

Pressure on hospitals

"If carers weren't there, people couldn't be discharged from hospital back into the community because there would be no care there for many households if family are away or whatever. They play a pivotal role in keeping the discharges from hospital going, so the next sick person can go in and occupy a hospital bed. People don't realise the critical role they play.

"We were hearing on the news every evening about the concerns of the political system about the buildup and pressure in hospitals, but you didn't hear about the carers available, almost at the door, for people to be discharged."

He said carers played a huge role in supporting vulnerable people throughout the pandemic.

"The care they had for their clients meant a lot of people didn't contract Covid or didn't have to access hospital. There's a huge gain for the community, hospitals, the Department of Health.

Fiacre Hensey, chief executive of the National Community Care Network (NCCN).

"We deliver 2.5 million care hours a year. If those hours weren't going into the community, can you imagine the devastation that would ensue with people reaching a certain stage in life and not having a carer? They'd either go to residential care, they would be accessing acute hospitals, that would be a disaster for hospitals that are already stretched."

Mr Hensey said there was a max of 240 NCCN carers, out of 3,000, with Covid on any given week.

"That is a phenomenal achievement given the role they were playing in the community," he added.

While he stressed HSE carers are 100 per cent deserving of the pandemic bonus, he said it is wrong that community carers have been separated from their colleagues in this regard.

Recruitment

He also recruitment and retention is a major struggle, adding that the delayed payment could make this worse.

"Once this pandemic payment was announced we thought 'thank God, finally there's political recognition for the role that these people play'. If they delay the payment it takes all the good out of the gesture.

"The majority of carers stayed in their roles right throughout the pandemic, they weren't just exposing themselves going into households they were then going back into their own families.

"It's like a vocation, this is not a regular job and the person who goes into it for a regular job probably won't last.

"It is no secret, the reality is the most critical factor in sustaining home support is the availability of carers. The cohort of carers is starting to age, and we need to bring in people to compliment the services.

"We have anything from 700 to 1,000 vacancies across the country. The challenge is to recruit and retain."

"It's a challenging situation but the key to it is release the funds, keep people's spirits up. When it's not delivered in a timely fashion people will get despondent, and maybe look elsewhere," he concluded.

Mr Hensey said anyone who is interested in pursuing a career as a carer can find more information at www.nccn.ie.

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