Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Seniors Alert Scheme
I welcome the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring. It is great to see him because he is always positive and always appears personally to tell the good news.
I acknowledge the work of his Department and its excellent website, from which I glean more information than any other Department's website. It is on the ball, active and covers real issues of community engagement and community supports, particularly rural but also urban, which is never missed by the Department. It is important that we support people, not least those who are vulnerable, to remain in their homes, and any supports that feed in to securing and allowing people to stay in their homes and live there are vital. The seniors alert scheme, also known as the personal emergency response scheme, offers fast and easy ways for both elderly and vulnerable people to access important health services and provides support during an emergency for those who live alone. Whether the emergency is a medical issue, a fall, a fire or merely feeling vulnerable at home, these people have the capacity and ability to use the seniors alert scheme, which is fantastic.
As I said, it supports people staying in their communities and is beneficial for rural and urban areas. Are there additional resources for the scheme or plans to roll it out for more people who want this scheme, which is simple and great technology? Will the Minister outline any further roll-outs of the scheme and, more importantly, will he give reassurance that there are sufficient funds for people to avail of the scheme? How should people tap into the various schemes available? It is a good scheme and I thank the Minister for making a personal appearance.
I thank the Senator for his kind comments, which I appreciate because my Department is new and it underwent three moves of offices in the past year although we have a permanent office now. I have a fine team with a new Secretary General, three assistant secretaries and fantastic staff in Dublin and Ballina. I take this opportunity to thank them because they found it difficult that there were so many changes while we were expected to be a functioning Department, which we were. A fantastic Department is now up and running, and I thank the Senator for his comments and the staff for the great work they have done in difficult circumstances over the past 15 or 16 months. I am proud of how the Department was set up, and it recently won an award for a public library initiative it created. We do not often have the opportunity to thank our staff and, therefore, I am taking this one.
Following the relaunch of the seniors alert scheme in November 2017, which was accompanied by a major publicity campaign, the scheme has seen considerable growth over the past 12 months. The objective of the seniors alert scheme is to encourage community support for vulnerable older people in our communities through the provision of personal monitored alarms to enable persons over the age of 65 of limited means to continue to live securely in their homes with confidence, independence and peace of mind.
A significant change in the new version of the scheme is that users no longer have to live alone or with another qualifying person to qualify for the scheme. The criteria were widened to include elderly people who are not living on their own but may be alone for a substantial part of the day and elderly people who are primary carers for other people in their household. The issue of isolation, whether in urban or rural areas, should concern us all and I am committed to continuing my Department’s response to the issue through programmes such as the seniors alert scheme.
Funding is available under the scheme for the purchase of equipment, such as a personal alarm or a pendant, by a registered community or voluntary or not-for-profit organisation. All users have a base unit installed in their home which is connected to a national seniors alert scheme helpline using landline or mobile telecommunications. When the user activates the personalised alarm, it puts a call through to the national call centre, which is open 24-7, 365 days a year. The call centre operator talks to the person in his at her home and decides whether to alert a local volunteer responder or, in potentially serious circumstances, the emergency services.
Funding for this scheme is made available by my Department. The equipment is free for the end user although there is a small charge should the applicant require a SIM card for the mobile phone. Under the new scheme, free monitoring is provided for the first year of use and recipients are required to pay a modest annual charge for the second and subsequent years. At the end of 2017, just over 18,000 participants had been approved, while 601 community groups provided support. By the end of the third quarter in 2018, in excess of 35,000 participants were approved with 660 community groups providing support. This is strong evidence of the growth of this scheme, providing real support and peace of mind for elderly people in their communities.
The seniors alert scheme is a demand-led programme. My Department was allocated €2.3 million in 2018 to administer the scheme. As a result of the unprecedented increase in participants in the scheme, I was determined to secure additional funding from within the resources of the Department to ensure we continue to meet the surge in demand and that every single applicant was catered for. The amount spent on the seniors alert scheme for 2018 stands at €5.4 million, and I ensured we funded that money from our Department. Funding is being allocated from my Department for a further roll-out of the seniors alert scheme nationwide for 2019. As it is a demand-led scheme, I will closely monitor it with a view to ensuring funding will continue to be available to meet the demand.
I thank the Minister for that comprehensive response. As he said, the seniors alert scheme is in demand, and the Department was allocated €2.3 million in 2018 yet the Minister confirmed the amount spent on the scheme for 2018 stands at €5.4 million. That increase is testament to him and I acknowledge him for driving this significant matter.This is positive news for anyone who wanted to be given confidence and assurance about the Government's commitment to elderly and vulnerable people living in their homes who wish to stay in their homes, urban or rural. Sometimes people think this scheme is not available to those who live in urban communities. I thank the Minister. It is a really good scheme. I acknowledge the work of the Department and how it manages its news and press relations. Someone said to me, "If Ringer can't do it, nobody can do it". He does share his information. People have to get up and look for it and I look for it. There is not a day that I do not tap into the website. It is crystal clear and I can see how systemically the whole thing is done. Well done and I thank the Minister for his comprehensive report.
The Senator has a great concern about rural issues. I am glad to receive his acknowledgment. We brought in a few new schemes in the Department, for Tidy Towns, the shows, the men's sheds, all organisations that deal with the problems the Senator is talking about, namely, rural and urban isolation. He is quite correct. I want to see this scheme rolled out. We did put a fair bit of money into the scheme, but we also put a bit of money into making sure that we advertised that scheme. I did the local newspapers, the local radio stations, the national media and we put out a tender for the groups to apply. I am delighted the community groups are out there actively promoting this scheme.
I will finish with this very positive example. This is not a lie. I met a woman last week who fell in her home. She was in a very serious condition and but that she pressed that pendant she would not be here today. She spent five days in hospital and she is home again. The pendant and the senior alert scheme saved her life. She just happened to mention it to me. She did not know that I had responsibility for the scheme but she had the pendant on her wrist. I encourage more people to take up that scheme because it does give them peace of mind.