SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, told over 100 health workers protesting outside Leinster House this afternoon (Wednesday, 14th January) that an immediate increase in Home Help services is critical to solving the overcrowding crisis in our hospitals. Addressing the protest, organised by unions calling for government action to end the overcrowding crisis in hospital emergency departments, Paul Bell, 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.“While many of these patients will need nursing home care, many more can and should be enabled to return to their own homes where they can be supported through HSE Home Help services. We have thousands of SIPTU members working as Home Helps who are ready, willing and able to provide the necessary supports to facilitate such a process.” He 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."The relationship between these problems is even clearer when you see that areas where the hospital crisis is at its most severe often correspond with those which have suffered the largest reduction in Home Help services. For instance, county Louth which has seen a 61% reduction in Home Help hours, the biggest reduction in the country, has a particularly severe overcrowding crisis in its local hospital.”SIPTU is launching a “Ready to Work” protest campaign at hospitals across the country to highlight the role Home Helps can play in alleviating the hospital crisis. The campaign will begin tomorrow with protests outside the accident and emergency department at the Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, Dublin 15, and at St. James Hospital, Dublin 8.A SIPTU survey has revealed that nearly seven out of ten Home Help workers currently have less than 20 hours work per week. The same survey also indicates that four out of five such workers are seeking additional hours of work. This means in many cases a Home Help service could be provided for hospital patients enabling many of them to return to live in their own homes under a tailored care plan.