Speech by Mr. Tim O´Malley, T.D., Minister of State, Department of Health and Children at the “Home from Home” Seminar

Ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to thank Ms Paula Lawlor from the PMMS Limited for the invitation to contribute to this seminar today.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of over older people in our community. Economic and social progress and improved health care have combined to reduce premature mortality. We are now living in a society where most people can expect to live for a considerable period beyond the age of retirement. The 2002 Census figures show that there are 5.35% more people over 65 years of age than there was in 1996. Between 1996 and 2011, the number of people aged 80 or over is projected to increase by over 25%.

The increase in life expectancy has been one of the great achievements of Western societies in recent times. As the standard of living for the young and middle-aged in this country has risen, so the quality of life of successive generations is improving. In many cases, illness and dependency don’t feature until the last few years of a person´s life, with advances in living standards and improved health services.

As a Minister of State in the Department of Health and Children, I appreciate the need for a close working relationship between management of private nursing homes and health board personnel working in acute hospitals and in the community. We all know the importance of partnership when it comes to developing health related services between the statutory and private sectors.

This Government acknowledges that we wouldn´t be where we are today without the valuable contribution made by our older population. Their endeavours over the years have laid the foundation for our success today and we should all be proud of their achievements.

We are all aware that the first choice for all of us, including older people, is to remain living in our own homes for as long as possible. However, it is important that older people have access to the best possible residential care when living at home is no longer an option. We must also ensure that our older people receive appropriate levels of care in surroundings which are of the highest standard when the option of living at home is no longer possible.

I know that the health boards and Eastern Regional Health Authority are committed to working with the private nursing home sector to provide quality nursing home accommodation for older people, as provided for in the Nursing Home (Care and Welfare) Regulations of 1993.

Demand for long-term residential care for older people, both statutory and private, continues to grow as our population ages. This Government acknowledges that there is a shortage of public long-stay facilities in some health board areas for older people needing residential care and that the private sector has taken up the slack by providing good quality nursing home care for these people.

An expenditure review of the Nursing Home Subvention Scheme has been carried out by Professor Eamon O´Shea, National University of Ireland Galway. The review was commissioned jointly by the Departments of Health and Children and Finance following on from a Government decision in 1999. The O´Shea report was formally launched on 25th June 2003 at a joint press conference with Ms Mary Coughlan T.D., Minister for Social and Family Affairs. Minister Coughlan launched the Mercer report on the Future Financing of Long-Term Care in Ireland at the joint press conference. Following on from the publication of the O´Shea and Mercer reports it was agreed that a Working Group should be established by my Department to review the operation of the Nursing Home Subvention Scheme.

I wish to advise that the inaugural meeting of the Working Group is due to take place in early December. The objective of the review is to develop a scheme which will be transparent, offer a high standard of care for clients, provide equity within the system to include standardised dependency and means testing, be less discretionary; provide both a home and nursing home subvention depending on need; be consistent in implementation throughout the country and draw on experience of the operation of the old scheme.

The Health Strategy also provides for an extra 800 public long-stay beds to be provided every year over a seven year period. Also, it is proposed to provide 850 public long-stay beds through the pilot Public Private Partnership project which is currently underway in my Department. The beds are to be provided in 17 community nursing units in the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the Southern Health Board and business advisors are currently preparing business plans which will have to be approved by my Department and the Department of finance.

It is important to recognise that the private nursing home sector will continue to play an important role in providing long-term care for older people in the future given that our older population is project to increase year on year. I note that Mowlam Healthcare is currently developing its seventh nursing home which will provide high quality residential care for older people. I consider that it is important that older people have a choice when they come to the stage where they can no longer live at home and the private nursing home sector is providing this choice by developing high quality nursing homes.

Can I just finish by saying that I acknowledge the work of all those involved in providing private nursing home care to our older people in our community and I wish you well for the future.