I propose to take Questions Nos. 620 and 621 together.
Under the Health (Nursing Homes) Act, 1990 the health boards provide subventions to assist persons in meeting the costs of nursing home care, however, it was never intended to meet the full costs involved.
Since coming into office, this Government has provided significant additional resources for the nursing home subventions scheme. More than £17 million was provided for the scheme in the Estimates for 1998. Additional funding of £6.9 million was provided in the Supplementary Estimate for 1998. A further £9 million was allocated to health boards this year to meet, inter alia, increased demand for nursing home subventions, the additional costs arising from increased dependency levels and the change in the regulations which applies from 1 January 1999. This regulation removes the provision which allowed health boards to assess the capacity of adult sons and-or daughters over 21 years of age to contribute towards the cost of nursing home care of their parent. The cost of this change alone is estimated at about £2 million per annum. The additional funding provided this year brings the total amount of funding available for the scheme to £33 million.
The budget allocation for older people includes a sum of £1.45 million which will enable a new 50-bed community nursing unit at St. Clare's, Ballymun, to be opened this year, together with a new 27-bed unit in Clonmel. In addition, the full year costs of contracting an additional 65 nursing home beds is being allocated to the Eastern Health Board, which will help to alleviate the pressure on acute hospital beds in the major general hospitals in Dublin.