Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill 2018: Committee and Remaining Stages

Sections 1 to 3, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 4

Amendment No. 1 in the name of Senator Devine has been ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Revenue.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.
Government amendment No. 2:
In page 3, to delete lines 26 to 29 and substitute the following:
“(a) carer’s benefit within the meaning of Chapter 14 of Part 2 of the Act of 2005,
(b) carer’s allowance within the meaning of Chapter 8 of Part 3 of the Act of 2005, or
(c) a payment under section 186A of the Act of 2005.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 4, as amended, agreed to.
Section 5 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister of State for bringing forward this legislation. It is important to give recognition that it is a step-by-step approach. One thing about the turnaround in economic circumstances is it is important to use wisely that increase in moneys coming into the Revenue Commissioners but that in particular, it is used for people who need that additional support. They provide a huge contribution and we should recognise that by giving them that additional support. Both the Minister of State and the Bill are welcome and I am delighted it has gone through its Final Stages here.

I wish to make a couple of comments. It is great to have this piece of work done today. While still acknowledging the caring role we have, we must have a trajectory that brings us from care into independence. It is important that it becomes more about supporting people from the home and out into the local community and into employment. I thank the Minister of State for his remarks about the importance of independent living.

I do not make this point specifically to the Minister of State, who I note referred to the National Disability Authority, which has strong opinions on this issue, but more to my colleagues in this Chamber. I make the point without apportioning blame but I am aware from my own work in the Disability Federation of Ireland that while the public clearly gets the notion of care and respite, which is important, it is a greater challenge for the public to understand how we can assist people to live life independently, that is, to make their own little or big choices, to go on their own journey, to be able to go places independently and to have a sense of themselves as an agent.

Senator Higgins did mention the work that was done between the three committees, namely, the education and skills, health and employment affairs and social protection committees this year. That is just one example of trying to pull together where the gaps fall between particular responsibilities. Given his all-of-Government brief, the Minister of State is very aware of this need to try to bring forward disability inclusion. We will see that challenge in the forthcoming budget - this is not addressed necessarily to the Minister of State as such - and will there be practical measures in health and social protection with regard to employment, housing, accessible public transport, etc.? I refer to some of the issues raised here today. Will measures be taken that go across a range of Departments and that actually stop the impediments for people? Will we see some improvement in the level of basic income or support for people?

It is a good day and I wish the Minister of State well. I hope Members of this House will be of assistance in the different committees and groups they are on to push for what is now a priority for the Government, together with the other issues it has at a national level. To use Senator Higgins's term, they should push for the road to emancipation for people with disabilities.

To speak briefly, I very much welcome the passing of the Bill. I commend the Minister on one point he made just there and indeed in his initial speech, when he spoke first of respite care and also on the question of personal assistance.

It is very important that carers recognise that in the case of the person being cared for, even though he or she is being cared for at home, the State has a duty of care and thus should contribute to same. It is important that family care, vital and important as it is, is never seen as an excuse for the State to fall back on its duty to provide supports. I welcome the commitment to strengthen the supports available for personal assistant hours and, indeed, to consider choice when it comes to personal assistant hours. It will mean that families and individuals can play a role in making sure that they are happy with and have accountability around home care services, about which people can sometimes feel vulnerable.

I wish to make a final but practical point. Like many others, I would love if this was not simply a GP card but a proper medical card that provides full healthcare. I want to ask the Minister of State to do the following. When he converses with the Minister for Health, if we are not going to just have the full medical card at this point, and I mean the full GP card, that particular areas are studied to see whether supports are needed, such as counselling services. We know that the work done by carers causes mental strain, difficulties and pressures. We also know that there are certain areas of care that are physically taxing in terms of providing care. Perhaps the Minister and Minister of State would consider particular areas and ask the caring organisations to recommend additional supports for specific areas so that when people approach their GP, the GP will recommend supports for the carers. It would mean that we could provide supports in some of the high volume areas of concern to carers.

I shall make a couple of short points because I know that many of the points have been made. I thank all of the Senators for their valuable contributions on this Bill today.

I assure Senator Higgins that personal assistant hours is an issue that is close to my heart. I agree with her that we should consider supplementary supports and consult people to discover what is needed.

I agree with Senator Dolan that every Department must respond to the issue of people with disabilities. I can assure him that I say that to my colleagues on a regular basis and I shall do so again over the next couple of weeks. We must also do the same with budgetary matters.

I welcome the fact that we have brought the legislation through all Stages in the Seanad today thus ensuring that this important service is made available to carers as quickly as possible. I hope that the service will be available on 1 September.

As a long time supporter and campaigner for people with disabilities, I am acutely aware of the pressures experienced by carers who care for people with disabilities. I know that they are often under tremendous strain to keep going. Today is a good day for those people. Removing the barrier and introducing free GP care for an additional 14,000 carers will prove to be a significant benefit, thus ensuring that health services can be accessed to prevent the health of carers from deteriorating. The measure will also aid carers in getting the necessary supports and services required for the benefit of both the carer and his or her family member or loved one.

I thank all of the Senators who contributed to this debate. They have shown great support for the rights of people with disabilities. I am personally very pleased to bring this legislation forward. It is our obligation, as public representatives, to look after those who need it most. On that note I commend the Bill and thank Senators for their support.

Question put and agreed to.