Tuesday, 17 December 2019
Section 39 Organisations: Motion [Private Members]
I thank all Deputies for their contributions to the debate on this very important matter that has been raised in the Private Members' motion this evening. It is important when discussing this issue that we do not forget that the role of voluntary organisations play is an issue which extends beyond the health sector. My colleagues in the Department of Rural and Community Development lead on the Government's five-year strategy for community and voluntary sector development in Ireland and conduct ongoing consultations and interactions which enhance the effectiveness and positive impacts of the voluntary sector.
My colleagues in the Department of Justice and Equality lead on the national disability and inclusion strategy. Along with the Department of Health, they are working across Government, in transport, housing, employment and social protection to maximise opportunities for children, young people and adults with a disability. As outlined by the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, in his address to the House earlier, the first meeting of the new dialogue forum established in response to the report of the independent review group took place recently. I am sure that the House will agree that we need to continue this positive progress and to continue to build on the relationships between voluntary organisations and relevant Departments and officials.
Regarding voluntary organisations providing health and social care services under section 39 of the Health Act 2004, it would be appropriate to set forth again the differences between section 38 and section 39 organisations. Section 38 agencies are organisations that are funded under section 38 of the Health Act 2004 to provide a defined level of health and personal social services on behalf of the HSE. Section 38 agencies include both acute and non-acute organisations. The employees of bodies that are funded under section 38 are classified as public servants. They are subject to the standard salary scales for the health sector and have access, in the main, to public service pension schemes. The employees of section 38 agencies are included in public service employment numbers.
Section 39 of the Health Act 2004 provides that the HSE may give assistance to any person or body that provides or proposes to provide a service similar or ancillary to a service that the HSE may provide. The HSE provides a grant to a range of private sector service providers under section 39. The HSE puts in place a service level agreement that sets out the level of service to be provided for the grant. The employees of section 39 organisations are not HSE employees; they are not public servants; they are not encompassed by public service pay agreements; they are not subject to the FEMPI legislation; they are not members of public sector pension schemes; and, unlike their section 38 counterparts, they are not directly bound by the Department of Health consolidated pay scales.
While it is understood that pay cuts were implemented in many section 39 organisations during the financial crisis, it is not clear if these cuts were applied in a universally consistent manner or if the cuts were to the same extent as those applied to public servants. The Minister for Health is aware that some section 39 organisations have raised concerns about financial sustainability with the HSE, including a number of organisations in the disability sector. The HSE has assured the Department of Health that it is committed to working intensively with such organisations to support them as appropriate to address such issues in the context of the service level agreement process. Where it is identified that a genuine issue is arising that may impede the effective and efficient delivery of services by section 38 or 39 social care service providers, any remedial action will need to be considered by central Government as a resolution cannot be addressed within the current health Vote resources.
The motion also raises the issue of forward planning. This House has given its support to Sláintecare, the ten-year cross-party plan to significantly improve and modernise the health service. Sláintecare will reform Ireland's health and social care service to create a modern, responsive service that offers the right care in the right place at the right time. Earlier this year, the Minister, Deputy Harris, and Ministers of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, Deputy Byrne and I welcomed the publication of the Sláintecare action plan and the announcement of the 122 successful applicants for the €20 million Sláintecare integration fund. It is essential at this time that we continue to work collaboratively with voluntary organisations to deliver existing services and move forward together with Sláintecare reforms. The vision of Sláintecare is central to the disability reform programme we are implementing under Transforming Lives. As outlined earlier by the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, the quality of life for service users is improving as a result of the implementation of person-centred policies, such as moving people from congregated to decongregated settings and developing more community-based, person-centred services.
Since this Government came to office, it has focussed on restoring the budget for disability services, which will exceed €2 billion for the first time ever in 2020. We have also been successful in agreeing a pay restoration process for nearly 12,000 individuals employed at 50 pilot bodies to the value of €7 million.
I want to highlight the valuable contribution that voluntary organisations make across Irish society. Ireland continues to benefit from having a voluntary sector and we all agree on the need to ensure that it is preserved into the future. I want to thank the House for the opportunity to address these issues this evening and for the valuable contributions to this very important debate.