As the Deputy indicates, the figures from the Central Statistics Office collated from the results of the census suggest that the average age of the population is increasing. Projections based on the 1996 census indicate that in 1996, 402,000 or 11.5% of the Irish population were over 65. Forecasts suggest that by 2031 this figure will have more than doubled and that the percentage of the population aged over 65 will be between 18% and 21% at that stage. The Government is aware of this trend and addressed some of the issues arising from it in its health strategy publication, Quality and Fairness — A Health System for You, published in 2001.
In so far as the development of services to meet an increasing population of older people is concerned the health strategy outlined the need for certain developments. Regarding community services, the following was recommended: recruitment of a multidisciplinary range of staff to support the development of primary care services such as domicilliary care, and day and respite services; the provision of 7,000 day centre places. The following were recommended in respect of hospital services: 1,370 additional assessment and rehabilitation beds; associated development of acute geriatric medical services and appointment of additional geriatricians; and 600 additional day hospital beds with facilities encompassing specialist areas such as falls, osteoporosis treatment, fracture prevention, Parkinson's disease, stroke prevention, heart failure and continence promotion clinics. Residential care recommendations included: 5,600 additional extended care/community nursing unit places over a seven to ten year period, including provision for people with dementia; and improved staffing levels in extended care units. The provision of the above services is contingent on the necessary resources being made available. On performance, national standards for community and long-term residential care of older people will be prepared.
Since 1997 over €270 million in additional revenue funding has been provided for the development of services for older people. In addition, significant capital funding has been made available through the national development plan for the provision of additional extended care and associated facilities around the country.
Proposals are also being developed for the provision of an extra 850 long-stay beds in the Eastern Regional Health Authority and Southern Health Board areas under a public private partnership pilot scheme and the preparation of business cases is well advanced.
The Deputy will also be aware that in June 2003 my colleague the Minister for Social and Family Affairs published the Study to Examine the Future Financing of Long-Term Care in Ireland, undertaken by Mercer Limited. This study considers possible financing options, including private sector or combined public private sector approaches, use of the PRSI system to finance-fund long-term care or alternatively, whether the current system of long-term care financing, through taxation, should remain thestatus quo. I understand that the Minister intends to undertake a wide process of consultation to initiate a public debate on the matter before a decision is made on the best way forward.