Address by Minister Máire Hoctor at the Age Action Ireland AGM on Thursday, 13th September 2007


It is a privilege to be here today. I am pleased to meet with organisations such as yours, and my door is always open to key stakeholders. I would like to thank your Chief Executive, Robin Webster for his kind invitation to address you today. Your AGM provides an important forum to discuss and debate issues of fundamental concern to older people and I trust you have had an opportunity to exchange ideas and information with colleagues here today.

Age Action Ireland:
Last July I was delighted to meet with Robin, Linda Desmond, Lorraine Dorgan and Eamon Timmons.

Robin, you will recall that I spoke of the need for us to continue to work in partnership to improve services for Older People and to ensure that the needs of older people are addressed. It is also important that we continue to communicate with each other. I would like to take this opportunity to express my support for and encouragement to all those involved with Age Action Ireland and its affiliates.

Positive Ageing:
One of the great achievements of our times is that most of us are living longer and staying more active than ever before. Older age can be a time of freedom, of new challenges, a time to devote to a beloved hobby or pastime.

There are many examples of people who take up demanding new challenges when they retire and of people who use their retirement to make extraordinary contributions to society.

Older people are no different from other age groups insofar as we all need to have a sense of control over our lives and the means to participate in society.

There can be little doubt that participation, in all aspects of society, is a central component of positive ageing and it is absolutely right that older people should seek to be empowered and to influence decision-making in the areas that affect them. This Government is fully committed to improving all aspects of the lives of older people by focusing not only on health issues but also giving consideration to the quality of accommodation, security, welfare, and all other issues which affect older people.

In addition to my duties in the Department of Health and Children, I also have responsibility in the Department of Social and Family Affairs, and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The area of Carers and the work of Carers with older people is of particular interest to me. I am pleased to state that there is provision in Budget 2007 whereby carers who would normally have been in receipt of a social welfare payment such as widows or lone parent may continue to claim that payment and up to 50% of the Carers Allowance.

This is a welcome development recognising the valuable work of Carers in our communities.

I also have responsibility in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, in relation to housing and accommodation for Older People. I have had the opportunity to visit many successful housing projects for Older People, for example, the Drumcolligher Centre, Co Limerick and St Brendan’s Village, Mulranney, Co Mayo. The place in which an older person lives influences their health and wellbeing. This is why I am determined to prioritise the further development and expansion of sheltered housing throughout the country.

National Positive Ageing Strategy:
The Government’s commitment to older people is set out in the new Programme for Government. A new National Positive Ageing Strategy will be developed in conjunction with the recognised voluntary groups in this area and will include:

  • The development of operational plans by Government Departments clearly setting out objectives relating to older people.
  • Joined up thinking on initiatives serving older people.
  • Ongoing mechanisms to monitor progress and identify challenges.
  • Liaising with recognised voluntary groups in the area.
  • And giving consideration to the appointment of an Ombudsman for Older People.

Government Initiatives:
Whilst acknowledging that most of our older population are healthy and living actively and independently, there are inevitably those who will require some degree of intervention to maintain their independence and dignity. I am glad to say that the cornerstone of policy in relation to the care of older people is care in the community, with the overall aim being to support older people in dignity to live in their own homes and communities for as long as possible.

Budget 2006 committed additional funding of €150 million for services for older people. Building on the successful implementation of Budget 2006 additional revenue funding of €255 million was allocated in 2007. Therefore in the last two years over €400m has been added to services for older people.

The vast majority of Budget Day package 2007 is focused on providing home and community based support for older people. The funding will finance 2,000 extra home care packages, 780,000 extra hours of home help and 1,100 more day care places.

When living at home is no longer possible, it is important that older people have access to the best residential care available, whether it be in a general hospital, community nursing unit or private nursing home.

The safety and well-being of older people living in nursing homes is of critical concern to this Government. Quality care and patient safety comes first and everyone should receive the same high standard of quality-assured care. The present standards for nursing homes are set out in the 1993 Care and Welfare Regulations. Inspections are carried out continuously.

There is now in place a national standardised approach to nursing home inspections across the country which underpins the inspection process. All inspections are now unannounced and nursing homes are now inspected at least twice a year.

The Health Act 2007 provides for the registration and inspection of all nursing homes – public, private and voluntary. The inspections will be carried out by the Office of the Chief Inspector of Social Services, part of the Health Information and Quality Authority.

In January 2007, a new set of draft national standards was published. They were developed by a working group chaired by the Department of Health and Children. The draft standards were formally referred to the Health Information and Quality Authority for consultation and finalisation. The Authority has recently published the draft standards for public consultation prior to finalising them.

The HSE is liaising with HIQA to facilitate transition arrangements as we move towards the new system of inspection in line with the recently enacted legislation.

A Fair Deal:
It is widely acknowledged that the present arrangements for supporting residents in private nursing homes are unfair. People with the same means and care needs can face greatly different costs in public and private homes. Over the last few years there has been extensive analysis on how best to develop a new way of funding long-term residential care.

Following this analysis, the Government has decided that the new Nursing Home Support Scheme – A Fair Deal – represents the fairest and most equitable means of supporting older people in residential care. The new scheme will ensure that care is affordable for all and that there is the same level of support for public and private nursing home residents. It means that older people will not have to sell or re-mortgage their home during their lifetime in order to pay for their own care. It also means that their children will not have to meet the costs, and that they can plan ahead secure in the knowledge that an equitable, affordable system is there for them should they need it.

The older population in this country has made an invaluable contribution to all aspects of Irish life. There is no doubt that society benefits enormously from the presence and participation of those who have seen what life has to offer. This Government is committed to providing them with the services they deserve.

On that note, I would like to thank you once again for the kind invitation to be here, and to wish you well in the coming year. Rest assured it will be a busy and challenging one for all of us!

Thank you.