Sick patients needing home help are feeling the effects of cost-cutting, says a Paraparaumu woman whose hours were cut despite her condition worsening.
Merran Plunket, who is in her early 70s, said she, and many other clients, had been "sacrificed" as the standard of support and care had been downgraded during the past year.
Mrs Plunket, who has chronic health conditions, needs help with showering and housework, and was receiving five hours' aid each fortnight.
Capital & Coast District Health Board dumped Healthcare New Zealand as a home-help provider last year, rewarding the contracts to Access Home Health and Presbyterian Support Central, sparking complaints from some clients that services and been cut back.
Healthcare NZ is going to the High Court this month, seeking a judicial review against the DHB.
Earlier this year, Mrs Plunket received a phone call from Access wanting to visit her. She asked if it was about her support hours being cut, and was told it was just a routine three-monthly visit.
Despite telling the Access assessor that her condition had deteriorated, she was assessed at needing just three hours' home help a fortnight.
"I was gobsmacked, felt let down. I did not even have the chance to have a support person," Mrs Plunket said.
She went to her GP to arrange a reassessment, and the Care Coordination Centre recommended she needed 14 hours of help a fortnight. Negotiations with Access eventually resulted in her retaining her original five hours.
Mrs Plunket complained to Access about how the reassessment was handled, and received a reply apologising that she was not given the opportunity to have a support person with her for the interview.
She waited for three months for Access to provide a recommended disability aid - a bath board, so that she could shower safely. A visiting physiotherapist from Kapiti Coast Health Centre provided one within 24 hours.
Access support workers regularly turned up at unexpected hours or visited when she told them she was going to be away, adding to her lack of confidence in the administration of the service.
"I know other people are really suffering but are too scared to speak up, and accept a lower standard of health services," Mrs Plunket said.
DHB chief executive Mary Bonner said last month that no sacrifices had been made even though the board had cut $80 million off its budget.
But Mrs Plunket said "home support cost cuts is the elephant in the room, which is growing as fast as the ageing population".
Access North Island general manager David Chrisp said he did not know the specific case, but services would be reduced only if a client was assessed to be able to manage with less help.
Grey Power Kapiti president Trevor Daniel said he had received more than 20 complaints about local home care hours being cut, which had been passed on to the board.
"Old people are very reluctant to complain in case they get targeted. They are very grateful for what they get and do not want to kick up a fuss. Very few of them are willing to stand up," he said.
A DHB spokesman said the board did not want to comment on the matter as it was before the courts.
Healthcare NZ chief executive Peter Hausmann said the company would argue in the court case that the DHB had planned inadequately for the change over. "We understand, based on feedback from previous clients and staff, there has been a reduction in service. We are not asking for the contract back - that would be too damaging for the elderly to transition yet again.
"This is a sector issue. We cannot have other DHBs acting in the manner we think this one did."
AT A GLANCE
October 2011: Capital & Coast District Health Board dumped Healthcare NZ as a home-help provider, awarding the contract to Access Home Health and Presbyterian Central Healthcare NZ sought an interim injunction in the High Court at Wellington arguing the tender process was flawed.
The application was dismissed.
September 2012: Healthcare NZ is now seeking a judicial review in the High Court later this month, arguing that the district health board did not adequately plan for the changeover.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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