I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, for attending to deal with this issue. I know he gets this. We made representations to him and the Department previously regarding meat factory workers, and that issue was resolved. While I do not want to compare the issue I am raising tonight with the plight of those in the meat industry, it still surrounds the issue of visas and non-EU workers. I would appreciate the feedback of the Minister of State.
Initially, I want to flag a couple of the positive things that have been achieved by the Government in the past two years. We have gone from 19 million hours to 24 million hours in 2020 and again in 2021, funding was provided for 24 million home care hours, which is most welcome. I understand there are more home help hours being delivered to more patients than ever before in the home, as it should be and as Government policy requires.
That said, yesterday I attended a briefing with my local HSE management. In the three hours I and my Oireachtas colleagues were there, we spoke about the well-documented recruitment crisis in the HSE, with anywhere between a 15% and 25% vacancy rate across the country in respect of the filling of various vacancies. While this difficulty in recruiting employees is obvious among consultants, therapists in disability services, psychologists and other professional fields, it is perhaps most acutely felt in the area of home care. I say this because those other posts I mentioned are in short supply globally and the State’s critical list allows those posts to be filled by international candidates, including non-EU applicants. A non-EU person can also apply for a post in a nursing home care setting and as a healthcare assistant in a hospital setting. However, non-EU candidates cannot be recruited for home care supports.
This policy is discriminatory and flies in the face of what we, as a State, are trying to promote, which is to keep people at home for as long as possible and to target care and support in the home as much as is practicable. I genuinely do not understand why the critical skills list is not amended to reflect the fact we have hundreds of thousands of hours allocated and approved in home care but we cannot source the staff.
I can list dozens of individual cases, as most Deputies can, regarding the much-needed hours allocated to various people where, for one reason or another, the HSE is failing to allocate a carer to them or to arrange for a service provider to be contracted to do the same. I think of one lady in particular who is 92 years of age. She is a dementia sufferer who has been waiting more than 12 months for a carer. After many representations and having waited that length of time, she eventually got half of her entitlement but is still waiting for her full allocation. This is being felt right across the board.
I understand that the reluctance up to now may have related to the fact that certain providers do not meet the same pay and conditions standards set by the HSE itself. These contracts and working visas require a minimum salary of €27,000 in other circumstances and while this approximate salary is not as high as the HSE hourly rate of €16.50 an hour, nonetheless, it is a reasonable starting salary for many of these workers.
I urge the Minister and the Department to revise the criteria for the critical skills occupation list. Let us deliver the whole allocation of hours and get the urgent care that these elderly and vulnerable people need.