Tuesday, 11 June 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I congratulate Deputies Clare Daly, Wallace, Fitzgerald and Kelleher on their election to the European Parliament.
This is national carer's week. It is a week in which we acknowledge and recognise the tens of thousands of carers throughout the State for the contribution that they make to people's lives, to families and to communities. We can safely say that they are everyday heroes without whom many people would not enjoy a decent or normal life. We can all agree that they are to be commended on their efforts and work.
Therefore, it is with much regret to learn as we did recently that the HSE has effectively suspended the allocation of home help hours to new applicants. It has applied this suspension at a time when more than 6,000 people are waiting for access to home care supports. The Taoiseach knows as well as I do the impact this will have on older people, people in need of care and people with disabilities and their carers, as well as their wider communities. The Taoiseach also knows it will place further pressure on hospitals by compounding the problem of delayed discharges.
The HSE says it has taken this action to balance the budget for 2019 but curtailing home help hours is a false economy. Directly employed home help, in particular, represents exceptional value for money. It allows older people to remain in their homes or to be safely discharged from hospital. If patients do not have enough home help hours, they are forced to remain in hospital at a substantial cost to the HSE or their families are forced to pay privately for home care support. Neither of these options represents value for money. Both of them end up costing more in the long run. We consistently hear from patients in hospitals who cannot be discharged because of a lack of home care supports. There are people who want to go home, and who could and should be going home, but adequate supports are not in place. Despite a budget increase of €10 million for this year, the number of hours being provided is simply not enough. I could say "we told you so" because Sinn Féin warned that the allocation would be inadequate. We argued for an extra allocation of €40 million in respect of home care packages to make adequate provision, but the Government chose not to listen. I would like the Taoiseach to commit to looking at whether funding can be found in the HSE budget to fund additional home help hours that can ease budgetary pressures elsewhere. I ask him to do that quickly because it would be money very well spent and it would save the HSE money in the long run. At a time when there is rightly a focus on budgetary practices, we need to focus on things that work and on real and prudent public spending.