Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions


12:02 pm

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I wish to highlight the ongoing work within the Government and the HSE to address what is an important issue across society. As the Deputy is aware, the Government is committed to establishing a new statutory scheme for the financing and regulation of home support services, which the Department of Health is developing. It is the view of the Government that many older people want to stay in their own homes instead of going into a long-term accommodation setting. It is our job and our duty to facilitate that as best we can, and that is why the Government has provided extensive resources in the last two budgets, in particular, to address this issue.

The new scheme will provide equitable and transparent access to high-quality services for people based on their assessed care needs. As the Deputy will be aware, that is very much based on the assessment of the needs of each individual. It is important to point out that the number of people waiting for funding approval of home support provision or for a carer to be assigned has reduced from more than 9,000 at the start of last year to approximately 5,300 at the end of September of this year. Of course, that is still too many, but it is still a significant reduction in the number of people waiting for funding. What people want, of course, is access to a service and that is what the Government is committing to providing. I acknowledge the enormous efforts of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, in leading on this issue. She has committed to establishing a cross-departmental strategic workforce advisory group to examine workforce challenges in home support services and, indeed, in nursing homes.

It is important to point out the level of additional funding, €150 million, that has been secured by the Minister of State for home support. The HSE's national service plan for this year sets a target to provide 24 million home support hours, which is 5 million more hours than were provided for last year. It was estimated at the end of October this year that some 17 million hours had been provided to approximately 54,000 people, which is about 2.5 million more hours compared to the same period last year. Notwithstanding the undoubted challenges that exist in recruiting home carers and people to provide this vital service, there has been a significant increase in the level of service and the number of hours provided this year relative to last year. The funding secured in budget 2021 to provide these additional 5 million hours has been maintained for 2022.

I acknowledge the point Deputy Kerrane made about staffing. It is an ongoing challenge for the HSE to recruit the staff necessary to provide this service. That can result in delays occurring in the interval between funding approval being given for an individual and the delivery of those home support hours. We accept that the delivery of the service in people's own homes is what really matters to the people concerned. There has been a steady increase in the number of people waiting to receive home support in recent months. It is important to note, however, that the total number of people waiting for home support across both categories, namely, those waiting for funding or for a carer to be assigned, has reduced significantly.

I referred earlier to the cross-departmental strategic workforce advisory group that the Minister of State has committed to establishing. The role of that group will be to facilitate the views of stakeholders and to examine workforce challenges in the home support service and nursing homes. Potential areas to be examined in that context include recruitment, retention, training, career development and the sustainable employment of home care workers for the future. As the Deputy will be aware, a call for submissions to identify key issues and to inform the establishment of the group was announced recently, on Friday, 3 December. The project team in the Department will now analyse the submissions received to inform the setting up of this group in early 2022. We look forward to the support of and engagement by the Deputy regarding how we can make progress on this issue.


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