I am taking this question on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. We discussed this matter yesterday at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health.
I am very much aware of the importance of respite service provision for the families of children and adults with disabilities, including the impact the absence of respite service provision can have on other parts of the health service and the well-being of families. As Deputies are aware, the provision of respite services has come under additional pressure in recent years. More children and adults are now seeking access to respite and the changing needs of people with a disability are also having an impact, as they, along with the rest of the population, thankfully live longer lives. A Programme for Partnership Government recognises the need for respite services to be developed further and the Minister of State and I are committed to ensuring this happens.
A number of factors impact on respite capacity. A significant number of respite beds are regularly utilised to allow unplanned emergency admissions, leading to a decline in the number of available respite nights against planned activity. As I indicated to members of the joint committee yesterday, one of my greatest concerns in respect of disability services is the large increase in the number of emergency admissions and the need to address this issue adequately. The regulatory and policy context has also changed the manner in which residential and respite services are provided, as agencies must, correctly, comply with regulatory standards.
As a result, capacity has generally decreased with the requirement for personal and appropriate spaces. Beds can no longer be used for respite where residents go home at weekends or for holidays. This is an example of how additional beds are not available when they would have been previously. It is not a criticism, only the reality. Implementation of the national policy on congregated settings is also reducing available capacity.
In the HSE's social care operational plan for 2017, some 6,320 people with disabilities are expected to avail of centre-based respite services, totalling 182,506 overnights. Based on existing levels of service and in addition to the centre-based respite service, it is planned that between 2,000 and 2,500 persons will avail of respite services such as holiday respite or occasional respite with a host family. It is also planned that a further 41,100 day-only respite sessions will be accessed by people with disabilities. Furthermore, the HSE has been funded to provide 185 new emergency residential placements, and new home support and in-home respite for 210 additional people who require emergency supports has been allocated. This marks a significant change in the way that respite services are delivered.
The most recent available data from the HSE indicate that 81,836 overnight respite sessions were accessed in the first six months of this year compared with 90,861 in the first six months of last year. The number of day-only respite sessions accessed for the same period in 2016 was 22,351 compared with 22,051 in 2017. The HSE is also developing an eHealth case management system, which will facilitate the tracking of all residential and home support-emergency respite services across all HSE divisions.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The HSE social care division has also committed to developing home sharing as a person-centred and community-inclusive type of support for people with disabilities involving the development of an implementation plan in 2017. This will address the priority recommendations of the national expert group report on home sharing published in 2016. It will be led by the national designated disability lead in this area.
The HSE continues to work with agencies to explore various ways of responding to this need in line with the budget available.