It’s difficult to pick up a paper now a days without reading some headline about a shortage of carers and rising waiting lists for home care.

As well as highlighting the problem, there are many suggestions about how to tackle the problem such as increasing carers pay, upskilling carers, providing a career pathway and bringing in carers from abroad.

We certainly need to look at all of those initiatives but with demand for home care only going in one direction, in the long term, the only way we will address capacity issues in home care and bring new people into the sector, is by enabling local communities to help themselves.

What I am talking about is activating local people to become self-employed carers in their own communities. In a way it’s professionalising our neighbours. At Home Care Direct we are convinced there is an army of people out there that would be open to this concept.

I have often spoke about a fictional Mary in Tullamore. Mary loves her community and is involved in the local GAA club, contributes in the parish and also helps out in the local community centre. Mary wants to make her community a better place by helping those who need support. She has no real interest in working for barely above the minimum wage for a corporate provider of home care but she would be very interested in being empowered to work for herself, setting her own rates and availability and having control over her career.

We are convinced all communities are full of people like Mary, who want to contribute and also have the time to do so. While they might not have the skills to take on all aspects of care work, many of them do have the life and social skills to be able to contribute in a meaningful way to make someone’s life better and perhaps be a welcome addition to a stretched professional care service.

This is one of the things we are trying to do in Home Care Direct by making it easy, transparent and safe to incorporate these types of people into the home care sector. Unfortunately, by enforcing a one size fits all system in home care commissioning and provision as we do presently, we are excluding so many people that could make a contribution in a practical way and help make significant inroads into the over 6,000 people waiting on a home care package.

By empowering local people in this manner, we would also be helping to stimulate the local community in an economic sense with less funds leaking outside the community to corporate overheads and profits, but also importantly, stimulating local communities in a social sense. It is well documented that communities that are enabled to help themselves are strong vibrant communities that wean themselves off dependency on costly outside intervention.

Our present home care provision system prioritises this outside intervention at the expense of the assets that are already existent locally.

In Ireland, we have one of the best examples of local communities helping themselves in a sporting sense, in the GAA. Mervyn Taylor of Sage Advocacy, this week in a letter to the Irish Times advocated for a GAA of home care.

What a wonderful idea. An idea that is held back only by the HSE refusing to accept that people are often experts in their own needs, that communities can help themselves and insisting that the shackles of safeguarding must be implemented and if not, better to leave people without any care and support.

People’s needs and situations are incredibly varied, why can’t they have an equally varied suite of options open to them to choose from, for their care and support?