Wednesday, 20 June 2018
Nursing Home Services
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to deal with this matter. At present, there are 23,500 people in private nursing homes under the fair deal scheme. These private nursing homes provide a valuable service to the country and excellent care to the many people who need it. While it is positive that we have reached full employment, the nursing home sector is experiencing difficulty recruiting people suitably qualified in the role of care assistant. Many care assistants are moving on to other jobs. The HSE has recruited a number of additional staff over the last three years in particular. As the Minister of State will be aware, the number of people employed in the HSE has increased from 99,000 to 110,000. Many of these additional staff were care assistants but they have moved on to other employment, including home care provision. In light of the nursing home sector's difficulty in recruiting people to fill vacant care assistant positions, it is seeking the introduction, on a pilot basis, of a visa programme for the sector, similar to that introduced for the meat industry and the horticulture sector, as well as a change in the current regulations in respect of visa requirements. I ask that serious consideration be given to this proposal.
I thank Senator Colm Burke for raising this matter. It is an issue of which I am aware from my contact with nursing homes in my area. Ireland’s overarching labour market policy is to promote the sourcing of skills and labour needs from within Ireland and the European Economic Area. As the economy improves, labour and skills needs are becoming apparent in some sectors. Recognising the changing economy and labour market and the challenges faced by enterprises in attracting sufficient labour, my officials are undertaking a review of the economic migration policies underpinning the employment permits system to ensure that our policies are supportive of Ireland's emerging labour market needs, be they skills or labour shortages. This report is expected by the end of June.
Ireland operates a managed employment permits system maximising the benefits of economic migration while minimising the risk of disrupting Ireland's labour market. It operates an occupational list system for in-demand occupations and those for whom a ready source of labour is available but which is ineligible for an employment permit. Changes to access to the Irish labour market for occupations through the employment permits system are made on the basis of evidence involving research by the expert group on future skills needs, the National Skills Council, a public consultation process and extensive engagement with Departments.
Care workers are currently on the ineligible list of employments as available evidence suggests there is no labour shortage, but a high turnover of staff, in this category. The nursing home sector should engage with the Department of Health as the lead Department in this regard and provide it with the necessary data to demonstrate that recruitment difficulties are solely due to labour shortages and not other factors such as attraction and retention issues. The Department of Health could then put forward to my Department a detailed business case for consideration of the removal of care workers from the ineligible list.
The recently announced pilot quota-based agricultural scheme was developed following consideration by the review group of an evidenced-based business case put forward by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine following consultation with the agricultural sector. The scheme is temporary to alleviate the immediate labour difficulties that the sector was experiencing. The nursing home sector should engage with relevant stakeholders with a view to putting forward to the Department of Health a business case showing evidence of labour shortages in the sector, which will then be forwarded to my Department for consideration.
My understanding is that Nursing Homes Ireland made a submission to the Department more than six months ago and has been raising this issue for some time with the Department. The Department has not corresponded with the Minister of State's Department, but I will again take back his message.
There is a serious shortage, and it is interesting that it does not just apply to Ireland. For instance, Israel has a system whereby a person can be granted a five-year visa to come to the country to provide home care, and it is working well. We are running into the same problem here because we have full employment and there is a shortage of people in this area. The Department will, when it investigates this with the various nursing homes throughout the country, discover there is a shortage of staff. The level of care will not be the same unless the required number of staff is in place. It is a challenge that needs to be dealt with at an early date.
My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, who is a fellow county man of the Senator's, is willing to work with the industry on this important issue to ensure continuity of service in the best interests of residents in nursing homes. I understand the Minister of State had various meetings with stakeholders in the sector and the matter was discussed but, again, this is a matter for the Department of Health to put forward a case to my Department for consideration, similar to what the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has done, which has resulted in a temporary system being put in place. I ask the Senator to pursue that. In undertaking any adjustment in a system, we must take into account the interests of the 225,000 people on the live register in Ireland. There are 17.5 million people unemployed in the European Union as well. We need to strike a balance and not further disadvantage those who are looking for jobs. The nursing homes sector need to provide evidence of efforts to improve skills, maximise the opportunities for unemployed people and address the attraction and retention issues.
If we can prove a case for this, we will take it into consideration. There are many actors involved to ensure that if there is a labour shortage, it is addressed, and it is not just down to other issues such as retention. I thank the Senator again for raising this issue. I will work with him and the Department of Health if there is an application to my Department.