I propose to take Questions Nos. 138 to 140, inclusive, together.
A key principle underpinning Government policy is to support older people to live in their own home with dignity and independence for as long as possible. The changing demographics and the implications for future health care costs underpin the importance of developing a wider choice of appropriate housing options for older people suited to their needs. The aim is to encourage and facilitate timely planning by older people and to rebalance the care model away from residential care to supporting older people to remain living independently at home for longer. As the research shows, this reflects the preferences of older people themselves.
The aim is to ensure that older people will have more choice by developing a range of housing options that are suited to their needs, so they can plan ahead and, insofar as possible, choose the right option for them. These options may include retirement villages, housing with supports projects or other initiatives.
Varying levels of support will be needed to enable older people to continue living in their own homes and communities, including care needs where appropriate. However, it is envisaged that there will always be a cohort of people for whom residential nursing home care is the most appropriate option. The main issue is the significant gap in alternative or intermediary options. This is the issue that I wish to address. There is a significant need to put in place suitable options to give older people the choice and importantly, to ensure that care is provided in the most appropriate setting. This aligns with the vision of Sláintecare where there is an overarching aim to bring care closer to the community and the person's home.
The Capacity Review published earlier this year, in addition to recognising the pressures being faced across the health system in terms of access to healthcare, was also an indication of the Government’s desire to plan appropriately for the future. Analysis of future scenarios (based on demographic projections and taking account of envisaged reform measures) shows potential requirements for the period to 2031. On the back of these findings, the Government committed to providing 4,500 additional short and long term residential care beds in the National Development Plan. The exact criteria for the planning and design of these beds will be evaluated on a phased basis as the projects are approved.
Currently more than 23,200 people are supported in nursing homes under the Nursing Homes Support Scheme. This figure does not include those in short stay or transitional care beds. The Health Information & Quality Authority website has information on the number of registered beds for each designated residential care centre, public and private.
On November 20 I hosted an expert conference on housing for older people with my colleague Mr. Damien English T.D. Minister for Housing and Urban Development. The overwhelming outcome of the event, shared by the experts, was that choice and the development of a range of community supports and services in close proximity to older people is the key to achieving the objective of keeping people living longer and independently in their communities. The outcome of this conference will be used by my officials and officials of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to inform the development of a suitable policy framework for housing for older people.