Respite care – Topical Issues

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Speech by Leo Varadkar TD, Minister for Health. Thank you Deputies Flanagan and Creighton for raising this issue today, and for allowing me to address the House. I am taking this debate on behalf of Minister Lynch.

A key objective of this Government’s health policy is to support people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible.

Carers are vital to the achievement of this objective and are considered the backbone of care provision in Ireland.  A break from caring can lessen the psychological and emotional stress they experience and can help carers to continue to provide the support that they give.

Respite services for adults and children with disabilities are provided in a variety of settings, depending on the needs of the family and available resources.  In 2015, 5,274 people with a Disability are expected to avail of residential centre-based respite services, utilising 190,003 bed nights.

In addition, between 2,000 and 2,500 persons avail of non-centre based respite services such as holiday residential placement, occasional respite with host family, overnight respite in the home, and summer camps.

The provision of residential respite services for people with a disability has come under increased pressure in the past couple of years. Any available development funding has focused mostly on the provision of day places for pupils graduating from school or rehabilitative training programmes or emergency residential placements. 

The need for increased respite facilities is acknowledged and the HSE continues to work with agencies to explore various ways of responding to their needs.

For older people’s services, respite may be provided via an enhanced ‘home care package’ for the period of respite or in public or private nursing home beds. Respite beds may also be ‘contracted’ by the HSE in private nursing homes.

There are about 1,860  ‘short stay’ Public Beds including ‘step up/step down’ care, intermediate, rehab and respite care, which are used in a flexible manner to meet local needs at any given time.  These are interchangeable for use depending on demand.

I acknowledge that that a higher level of respite is required across the greater Dublin area. €8 million of the additional €25 million allocated in 2015 will provide 115 additional transitional care beds for discharges from acute hospitals. €5 million has been allocated for the provision of additional Home Care Packages targeted on a needs basis to individuals who are discharged from Dublin hospitals. This will assist in allowing individuals to return and to remain at home and also supports the carers in the provision of in-home services.

This is in addition to the €315m that has been provided nationally for the Home Support Services. This stronger emphasis on home care and other community services provides a greater range of options to avoid admission to acute hospitals, support early discharges, and where appropriate to rehabilitate and re-able patients after periods of particular difficulty.

The funding that is available for services must be balanced across all of the various service areas in a way that achieves the best possible outcomes for the greatest number of service users and prioritises areas of greatest need as far as possible.  The demand for services has increased in recent years and we need to ensure that home care supports are as easily accessible as possible, so that as many older people as possible can be supported at home.

The shortage of respite care was one of the issues raised by the carers’ representatives at the annual Carers’ Forum hosted by the Department of Social Protection on Tuesday and I would like to assure the Deputies that my Department and the HSE will be following up on this issue.