I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, to the House. I would like to ask him and his colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, when the home subvention package, which is at pilot project stage in the east coast section of the Health Service Executive, will be available nationwide. What level of assistance will be given to people who require it under the scheme? The Minister of State is aware that a successful pilot subvention scheme has been operational in the eastern regional area for 14 months. I would like the scheme, which involves the paying of an additional allowance to old age pensioners over the age of 65 up to a maximum of €190, to be extended throughout the country.
The home subvention payment is an important support because it helps elderly people to access additional services. It allows them to continue to live in their homes and communities. Most public representatives appreciate the importance of helping elderly people to stay in their own homes. The home subvention scheme, which is means tested, is economically viable — its cost is far less than the cost of maintaining people in private nursing homes or public institutions. The scheme allows people other than family members to provide additional care to an elderly person. It is offered in addition to existing schemes such as meals on wheels and the home help service, which are provided by the bodies which used to be called health boards.
The ongoing review of the scheme and the Government's drafting of its plans should be completed as soon as possible. It is a particularly urgent matter because of the current crisis in the nursing homes subvention system. It appears, following a Supreme Court judgment this morning, that health boards were making illegal deductions from elderly people.
I do not know if anybody can emphasise sufficiently the importance to elderly people of being able to recuperate in their own homes after a stay in an acute hospital. It is reassuring for them to be in the company of those they know best in the comfort of their home surroundings. If the Government is a caring Government, as it claims to be, the Tánaiste and the Minister of State should immediately extend the home subvention scheme throughout the country. The scheme is important in major urban areas such as Dublin, Cork and Galway. Its importance in rural areas and communities, where there is a shortage of home help workers and providers of other services which are readily available in major urban areas, cannot be over-emphasised.
I ask the Minister of State and his senior colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, to extend the home subvention scheme. Can the Minister of State tell the House how much progress has been made with the drafting of legislation to give effect to the scheme, if such legislation is necessary? To what extent will resources be made available for this important scheme, which could make a substantial difference to the lives of many people throughout the country?