As the Deputy is aware, the administration of health services, including the placement of people into long-term care, is, in the first instance, a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority, ERHA, and the health boards.
I am aware that the Dublin academic teaching hospitals, DATHs, have been encountering problems with delayed discharges of patients whose acute phase of treatment has been completed and who require to be discharged to more appropriate facilities. However, the claim that people might have to wait for up to 12 and a half years for discharge was, in my view, unjustified.
The Deputy may be interested to know that I have regularly met administrative and medical representatives of the ERHA, the area health boards and the DATHs and, at the most recent meeting, I was advised by the authority that it has commenced a programme to re-open public extended care beds. I am, therefore, fully cognisant of the issues involved. The Minister of State, Deputy Callely, is involved in these meetings.
I understand the ERHA has made strenuous efforts in recent months to recruit staff and that these efforts are beginning to show results. This has allowed for the re-opening of 93 public extended care beds to date.
Additional funding of €13.8 million has been provided to the ERHA this year to facilitate the discharge of patients from the acute system to a more appropriate setting, thereby freeing up acute beds. It allows for funding through the subvention system of additional beds in the private nursing home sector and ongoing support in the community. This funding has already resulted in the discharge of more than 350 patients from acute hospitals in the eastern region to different locations, the majority to private nursing homes.
The ERHA is actively monitoring the situation and working with hospitals, the area health boards and the private nursing home sector to ensure every effort is made to minimise the number of delayed discharges from acute hospitals.
The option of accessing beds in private nursing homes will be considered on an ongoing basis, bearing in mind that, for a variety of reasons, private nursing home beds often may not be suitable for the discharge of heavily dependent older people from acute hospitals.
My Department provides significant funding for the nursing home subvention scheme and more than €443 million has been allocated cumulatively over the past five years. In 2000, the budget available for the scheme was €48.439 million and, this year, €115 million was made available, which is an increase of 137%.
I will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, problems encountered by older people in the greater Dublin area in accessing services appropriate to their needs are minimised.