In opening the debate this evening, I would like to comment on some of the issues raised in last night's debate. Deputy Olivia Mitchell raised the issue of the future of private health insurance in this country. Currently, 49% of the population has private health insurance cover. Private health insurance is a long-established feature of our health care system and the health strategy affirmed that it would continue to play a vital part in the overall resourcing of health care.
The policy of my Department in relation to services for older people is to maintain them in dignity and independence by providing the necessary supports and to provide a high quality of hospital and residential care for older people when they can no longer be maintained at home. The home help service plays a role in the implementation of my Department's policy. Since 2000, the total increase in expenditure on the home help service across all health board areas has been 113%.
I am also pleased to advise that a number of health boards are developing personal care packages that are more focused on individual care needs involving the public health nurse service, attendance at day care, day hospital, rehabilitation, respite care and home help and care assistance. I am actively encouraging all health boards to explore the benefits of such care packages. It is important to acknowledge that many positive things are happening in our services for older people. Of course, I also appreciate that there are gaps in service provision in the regions that we must address and I will be working with all the relevant authorities to further improve services.
Listening to the Labour Party contributions last night, they seemed to be hedging their bets, speaking out of both sides of their mouths, but clearly refusing to make any real decisions. If the Labour Party is serious about health reform, it is time to drop the cherry-picking approach. Indeed, one would think they would be present in the House for this debate.
I take serious issue with their motion that claims no health reform has taken place. This suggestion is as dishonest as it is unworthy. Unlike the Labour Party, the Government parties will not cherry-pick expert reports. We will not engage in each way bets and we will, at all times, do what is in the best interest of patients. This will involve some difficult choices along the way but our approach, from which the Labour Party could learn much, is founded on two key concerns – first to invest in services and second to bring about significant reform.
In terms of investment, we have made considerable progress since the days the Labour Party was last in government. This year the Government will invest almost €9.2 billion in health and that compares to a paltry £2.5 billion donated by the rainbow Administration when it was last in office six years ago. Put simply, it is the parties on this side of the House that have increased the health spend by 162%.