Before we move to the formal business of Leaders' Questions, I note the life of our nation has been diminished today by the passing of two men, Noel Whelan and Brendan Grace. They were two very different men but they both made enormous contributions to our nation's political, legal, media, social and cultural life and both have died too young.
Noel Whelan was passionate about democracy and about people understanding and accessing that democracy. Unlike a lot of political pundits, he was not afraid to put his name on a ballot paper and he was exceptionally proud of the history of this country and of its potential and he was never afraid to challenge that potential. His most important and proudest role was as a husband to Sinéad and a dad to Séamus. We think of them today and we think of our colleague, Councillor Michael Whelan, his brother, and of his family in Wexford of whom he was enormously proud.
Brendan Grace brought joy and laughter to generations of people over more than 50 years as an entertainer. He was immensely talented and he devoted his life to sharing that talent to improve the lives of those he interacted with and those he spoke to. He had the unique distinction of being able to connect to generations of much different characters, from Bottler to Fr. Fintan Stack. We again extend our sympathies to his wife Eileen and to his children and grandchildren. Our country is so much the poorer this morning for the passing of these two fine men.
I want to come back to an issue that has been discussed in this House on a number of occasions in recent weeks, and for which we have got no information on the reality on the ground, and that is home help hours and home care packages. We all know and agree that home help hours and home care packages are essential to people with conditions and to families all over the country. They are essential to keeping our health service working well and efficiently because if they are properly managed, they ensure that beds are moving, that accident and emergency rooms should not be full and that people have the right and the dignity to be treated in their homes.
In recent months, many Deputies on all sides of the House have been asking questions about the allocation of hours and the lack of those hours on the ground. The Taoiseach told us there was not a problem but that he did not have the information and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, came in and took questions in the House on a number of occasions. Their experience and their answers to the questions were utterly different from our realities as Deputies on the ground in dealing with home help and the lack thereof. What we do know is that the home help waiting list has 6,300 people on it as we speak. That is 6,300 families who are waiting hours for their loved ones to be kept at home. That is 6,300 patients, many of whom might be in hospital and many of whom might be in an acute hospital and who would be far better off at home. The only comment the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, added was that there was 800,000 extra home help hours and that he would ensure that they would be fully implemented but that is not happening.
Deputy Butler was given figures last week that show that home support hours are short by over 160,000 hours in the first five months of this year and if that trend continues, there will be a shortage of 400,000 hours by the end of the year. All of our experiences suggest this trend is not only continuing but it is getting worse and the number of people receiving home care is less than what the HSE itself targeted. I do not want the Tánaiste to deny that there is a problem this morning or for him to tell us that he will get back to us because he will not get back to us - today is the last day of the Dáil session. I anticipate that over this recess, there will be a range of challenges to our health service we will have to deal with without having Government accountability.
Does the Tánaiste accept that the HSE figures provided to Deputy Butler fly in the face of the Minister's assertion that all hours committed to will be delivered? Does the Tánaiste accept there are major difficulties and inconsistencies across the country in providing home help hours? Can the Tánaiste lay out a precise action plan the Government has in mind to ensure we do not end up with a shortage of 400,000 hours and to ensure that families whose loved ones need home help will get it in a timely manner and in a manner that respects their loved ones?