Home care providers seek emergency measures to continue operating in face of COVID-19 and alleviate pressure on hospitals

Home care providers seek emergency measures to continue operating in face of COVID-19 and alleviate pressure on hospitals

Wednesday, 18th March 2020: Home and Community Care Ireland (HCCI) – the national membership organisation for companies that provide home care services – has today published its COVID-19 home care action plan.  The plan sets out six urgent recommendations for government and the HSE to ensure home care providers can continue to provide essential care services to vulnerable people nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to HCCI, home care services will play a crucial role in the coming months in alleviating pressure on hospital beds.

Commenting today, Joseph Musgrave, Chief Executive of HCCI, said:

Our COVID-19 action plan has two key objectives.  Firstly, we need to stabilise our sector to ensure it can fully play its part in the midst of the current crisis.

COVID-19 is an unprecedented challenge to our country, and our normal way of life.  The Taoiseach’s words last night spoke both to, and for, our country.  Our frontline care staff are immensely brave, and particular mention has to be made for the more than 50 care staff that our members employ, who are self-isolating upon the advice of public health.  Their service is courageous.

Over 800 existing home care clients are choosing to self-isolate, including from their home carers.  The current HSE policy is that, where clients choose to self-isolate, including from carers, pay for their carers is limited to the first two days of the self-isolation.  As a result, home care staff whose clients are self-isolating over several weeks are going unpaid.   This threatens their job security and, indeed, the viability of our entire sector.

We propose the current payment for carers whose clients self-isolate be extended from two days to up to six weeks.  The current limit unfairly penalises both carers and clients – who may lose their home care package if they voluntarily self-isolate.  An extended period of pay for carers would be more in line with government announcements on the COVID-19 sick leave policy and COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

The second aim of our action plan is to boost capacity in the home care system, thereby alleviating pressure on hospitals nationwide.  We are calling on government to amend social welfare limits that currently deter people from entering the caring profession or expanding their working hours as carers.  If we can increase capacity in our sector now, we can move more people out of much-needed hospital beds and into home care settings.

 Action Plan Recommendations

The HCCI Action Plan recommendations are as follows:

  1. Suspend the following social welfare rules to free up more working hours among current staff:
    • Suspend the requirement that limits employees on the Community Employment programme to 19.5 hours of work per week.
    • Suspend the rule that employees must earn €184 or less per week in order to retain their entitlement to a Medical Card.
    • Suspend the rule that limits employees from working over 38 hours in a two-week period if they wish to qualify for the Working Family Payment.
  2. Suspend, for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, the requirement for new carers to shadow an existing carer for five hours.
  3. Amend the current policy of paying providers for only two days if a client self-isolates voluntarily or upon the advice of public health, so that payment is extended from two days to up to six weeks.
  4. Issue more detailed national guidance for home care providers on caring for clients during the emergency. This should include detailed guidance on dealing with clients suspected to have COVID-19 and how to limit the risks to carers at this time.  In tandem, issue a national directive that, if the need arises, sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will be issued to all home care providers with attendant training.
  5. Expand Revenue guidance issued on 13th March 2020 to include payments, interest and penalties on PAYE, USC and PRSI, and extend this until the COVID-19 emergency is over. Employers will continue to file all returns as normal.
  6. HSE to immediately settle all outstanding invoices issued by HCCI members. HSE to put in place a robust invoice payments system that will operate efficiently throughout the period of the COVID-19 crisis.

Over the past week, we have been attempting to engage proactively with the authorities to prepare a robust plan for the home care sector in the face of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Joseph Musgrave. “We have been in constant contact with the HSE, the Department of Health and our own members since the onset of COVID-19.  To date, the authorities have issued some basic clinical guidance to home care providers and announced the damaging self-isolation pay policy, which caps pay at two days for affected carers.

“We all have our part to play in this national emergency. HCCI’s proposals are ready for implementation, subject to government agreement.  We are calling on government to implement our action plan now to ensure our sector is operating at full capacity and effectiveness when it is needed most.

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