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 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions
 Header Item Priority Questions
 Header Item Care of the Elderly Provision
 Header Item Ambulance Service

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 911 No. 3

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Ceisteanna - Questions

Priority Questions

Care of the Elderly Provision

 1. Deputy Billy Kelleher Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris the number of new nursing home places, home care packages and home help hours he will introduce under the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [14118/16]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I thank the Deputy for his question. As the Minister of State with responsibility for older people, I am sure that every Deputy's priority is to ensure that people live active, healthy, happy and fit lives in their communities as they get older and that they participate in their communities for as long as possible. Where people need support, we must be able to provide it.

The Government is committed to enhancing the quality of life of older people, supporting them in their homes and communities for as long as possible and, when required, providing access to quality long-term residential care. We are all living longer. The CSO figures predict that, in the next 30 years, the number of people aged 65 years or over will double and the number living into their 80s will quadruple. There will be a considerable increase in the demands placed on our services.

In 2016, the HSE has a core provision of €324 million for home support. An additional €20 million has been allocated to maintain the 2015 increase in service levels to 10.4 million home help hours, 15,450 home care packages, including 130 intensive home care packages, and 313 transitional care beds. A further 60 clients with dementia will be supported with co-funding from The Atlantic Philanthropies under the national dementia strategy. From working with the Meath Alzheimer's association, I know that there will be a significant increase in demand in this regard. The programme for a partnership Government commits to increasing funding for home care packages and home help year on year.

The nursing homes support scheme, with a net budget of €940 million, is expected to support 23,450 clients on average per week, representing an increase of 649 clients per week on last year's figures. The programme for Government commits to increasing resources in order to maintain current waiting times for funding approval. This year, that waiting time will not exceed four weeks compared with early last year when it was almost 11 weeks.

I am confident that, with continued economic growth, we will be able to expand services for older people based on the effective use of existing resources and additional funding.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher I wish the Minister of State well and congratulate her on her appointment. We are embarking on a new era in terms of the challenge facing the Parliament, in that we must now reach a cross-party consensus when what we often did was take a partisan approach to issues. In the new dispensation in Irish politics following the general election, it is incumbent on us all not only to raise problems, but to find solutions.

Long-term residential care and the provision of home care packages and home help hours present a major challenge. If we are to face the demographic challenges of the years ahead that the Minister of State outlined, we must accept that residential care, home care packages and the bolstering of community services will comprise a critical component.

Under the programme for Government, there is a requirement to increase home help hours by approximately 2.2 million, the number of home care packages by 3,500 and the number of intensive home care packages, which are provided to people, in particular young people, who suffer from dementia. A commitment from the Government and all other sides is needed if we are to ensure that resources are prioritised for these key areas.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher Is that it?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I am afraid so, but the Deputy can revert with a supplementary question.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher I prepared long and hard for this question.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I have no doubt of that.

Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee We will have plenty of opportunity to discuss everything that Deputy Kelleher has prepared. In the new era of cross-party consensus, we are all on the same page, in that we want to ensure that older people and those who deserve support at home get it.

We are trying to deal with a number of issues. For example, delayed discharges is a major one. In order to move people on from emergency departments who should not be there, people are being sent home with more complex needs, which costs more and places additional pressure on the system. We must manage our limited resources and examine where there are peaks and troughs in the system. For example, demand reduces as we approach summer. As we approach winter and demand increases again, we must manage funding so that it is available for those who need it. There is a commitment to increase funding where possible, although I cannot give the Deputy the exact figures. As the economy improves and more people return to work, which is already happening, I hope that further funding will be available for these badly needed resources.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher I will diverge slightly. Those opposite held a meeting on the winter readiness of the country's emergency departments, but I assume that one of the key aims is to ensure that people, in particular the elderly, do not end up in emergency departments in the first instance. Home care packages, home help hours and bolstering primary and community care services form a critical component in that regard.

In the past 30 years, we have consistently referred to primary and community care as the way forward in addressing the challenges facing us. For a long time, though, we have been lacklustre in ensuring that people have as much support at home as they need. I hope that the Minister of State can give a commitment to the House that a strong emphasis will be placed on home help hours, home care packages and primary and community services in next year's Estimates and the budgetary preparations.

Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee Yesterday, the House debated our intention to effect a ten-year plan for the health system. For a long time, we have been playing catch-up and going from year to year. As Deputy Kelleher rightly pointed out, of most importance is preventing people from reaching the stage at which they need to attend emergency departments at two, three or four times the cost to the State of providing a service at home. The financing that has been available to us in recent years has not met the increasing level of demand. If we can increase funding where it is needed as soon as possible, prevention will be better than cure. That is our commitment to the Deputy.

Ambulance Service

 2. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Health Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris if he accepts the capacity review of the National Ambulance Service and its recommendations; if he will create a specific stand-alone yearly budget to implement it; when he will implement the recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14020/16]

Minister for Health (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I thank Deputy O'Reilly for her question and I wish her well in her appointment as her party's spokesperson on health. I look forward to the debates that we will have in the Chamber. I hope that we will be able to build on yesterday's establishment of a cross-party committee to devise a singular vision for the health service and work together.

Last month, at my request the HSE published the National Ambulance Service capacity review with an action plan for implementation that incorporated the recommendations of the capacity review and the 2014 Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, report on the National Ambulance Service. The capacity review makes it clear that we will need a significant programme of investment in our ambulance services. In this context, a planned investment in a multi-annual programme involving manpower, vehicles and technology is required. Additional funding of €7.2 million has been provided for the National Ambulance Service in 2016. As the Deputy will be aware, the programme for a partnership Government commits to an additional annual investment in terms of ambulance personnel and vehicles.

It should be noted regarding the action plan that a number of the reviews' key recommendations are already being undertaken as part of a significant programme of reform and modernisation of the National Ambulance Service that has been under way for several years. The programme has achieved many of its key targets, including the establishment of the national emergency operations centre and the creation of an integrated deployment platform that allows our ambulance service to operate as a national fleet rather than as regional divisions, the continued delivery of improved technology to improve response times, and the expansion of the community first responder scheme.

There is much more to do and the capacity review is a good roadmap, as is the action plan. My Department continues to engage with the National Ambulance Service regarding the latter's requirements and performance and I will do all that I can to ensure that the action plan is implemented.

Deputy Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly I welcome the three newly appointed Members opposite and congratulate them and wish them well in their new roles. My question was specific and referred to the creation of a stand-alone budget. In light of what was done to the mental health services budget, no one will dispute that a stand-alone budget is necessary to ensure that these measures are implemented.

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