Adjournment Debate. - Cheshire Home Funding.

The Rathfredagh Cheshire Home in Newcastlewest was established in 1971. Over the years, it has been highly respected because of the level of care and the commitment of the staff. The residents are primarily those with multiple sclerosis, car accident injuries and those who have been disabled since birth. There are 28 residents in total with an additional two places for respite care with a potential for further places. The 35 staff, most of whom work part-time and who have worked there over many years, have had to put up with salary scales and premiums which are seriously deficient compared to staff working within the health board.

I am aware the Mid-Western Health Board has approached the Department of Health and Children to provide additional funding. In 1997 the board agreed to enhance the salaries and premiums over a three year period. In 1997 £20,000 for a half year was provided. In 1998 the Mid-Western Health Board's costs will be £56,000. It has allocated £40,000 and there is a shortfall of £16,000. In 1999 and 2000 Mid-Western Health Board budgets, £40,000 has been allocated for each, but there will still be a shortfall of £64,000 and £94,000 respectively.

The objective of the phased agreement over three years was to ensure the staff would be paid at the correct point of the scale with appropriate premium payments. It is vital the Department of Health and Children ensures the appropriate financial allocation is made to the Mid-Western Health Board. It must be ensured that the staff at Rathfredagh Cheshire Home are fully recognised for the great work they do. It is now a matter of urgency that the Department of Health and Children provides the funding and I call on the Minister to ensure this happens.

I am glad of the opportunity to clarify the position about the funding of Rathfredagh Cheshire Home.

Neither my Department nor any health board has any responsibility for negotiating the salaries and conditions of service of the staff of any agency, such as Rathfredagh Cheshire Home, in the voluntary sector. This is strictly a matter for the agency as employer. That said, the position is that health boards in accordance with section 65 of the Health Act, 1953, pay annual grants towards the running costs of such agencies. Section 65 provides that a health board may give assistance to any body which provides a service similar or ancillary to a service which the board may provide by,inter alia, contributing to the expenses incurred by the body. The wording of the provision makes it clear that it was not the intention of the legislators that the grant must cover all the expenses incurred by the body in providing the service. What was intended was a contribution towards such costs. In most cases, agencies in the voluntary sector cover a proportion of their costs from fund-raising.

Pay costs of staff are an element — in most cases the principal element — in the running costs of any body. As such, it is taken into account by a health board in negotiations with the body on the level of the section 65 grant. I am aware that detailed discussions have taken place in this context between the Mid-Western Health Board and the home, as to the need to increase pay rates and provide pensions and the cost of doing so.

The grant to Rathfredagh is currently £359,500. This includes an increase of £12,000 in 1998 out of additional funding made available for services for physical and sensory disability. In addition, the Mid-Western Health Board made available out of its own resources an additional £25,000 in 1997 and £25,000 again in 1998. In all, the home has had its annual section 65 grant from the health board increased by about 40 per cent in the past two years. The Deputy will agree this is a substantial increase.

I assure the House that the Mid-Western Health Board is in constant touch with Rathfredagh Cheshire Home regarding its financial problems and will continue to keep its annual grant to the home under review with a view to providing an enhanced contribution to the home's running expenses as resources permit.