Family carers provide a crucial and valuable support to their loved ones, ensuring that they can continue to live in their own homes and communities. Caring is a challenging role, and family carers require support to allow them to continue caring with confidence. The 2012 National Carers’ Strategy is a cross-departmental strategy that sets the strategic direction for future policies, services and supports provided by Government Departments and agencies for carers. Each relevant Department is responsible for the implementation of their actions and the Department of Health co-ordinates a progress report on overall implementation which is produced on a periodic basis over the lifetime of the Strategy and presented to the Cabinet Committee on Social Policy. The Strategy contains actions to implement four national goals encompassing a recognition of the value and contribution made by family carers, a need to support carers to manage their own health and well-being, providing adequate information, training, supports and services, and the empowering of carers to participate as fully as possible in economic and social life.
The Department of Health is currently engaging with other Departments with a view to developing a revised Action Plan for the further implementation of the Strategy. Meetings have been held between the Department of Health and a number of other departments and agencies to identify additional actions which can be carried out. A stakeholder consultation on the draft Department of Health/HSE health-related proposals was undertaken at the Annual Carers Forum organised by the Department of Employment and Social Protection last November. Publication of the refreshed action plan is anticipated to take place later this year.
The availability of homecare and supports for cared for people also have a positive impact on the lives of family carers. Homecare is an increasingly important part of the supports for enabling older people to remain in their own homes and communities for as long as possible and for facilitating their discharge from acute hospitals. Over 53,000 people will receive more than 18 million home support hours this year.
While the existing home support service is delivering crucial support to many people across the country, it needs to be improved to better meet the changing needs of our citizens. To do this, the Government has committed to the development of a new statutory scheme for home-support services to enable people with care needs to live at home for as long as possible. The scheme will introduce clear rules in relation to the services for which individuals are eligible and in relation to service-allocation. It will therefore be an important step in ensuring that the system operates in a consistent and fair manner. The introduction of a system of regulation for home-support will help to ensure public confidence in the services provided. The new scheme will also be designed to support family/unpaid carers and will complement and integrate effectively with other health and social-care services.
The Department is also progressing various work-streams in order to deliver on the goal of implementing the statutory scheme. On-going work includes research to inform the conceptualisation of the overarching aim, objectives, actions and outcomes of the statutory scheme and the compilation of the data required for a review of the management, operation and funding of existing services. Further consultation will take place as the new scheme is developed.
The development of a statutory scheme and system of regulation for adult home-support services is a complex undertaking. While to date important steps have been taken towards the development of the new scheme, a significant amount of additional work remains to be carried out before final decisions are taken on the form that it will take. This is required if the reforms are to be successful, affordable and sustainable. While the new home-support scheme is under development, the Department of Health and Health Service Executive (HSE) are continuing efforts to incrementally improve the existing home-support services. The commitment to the development of this scheme has been reaffirmed in the recently published Sláintecare Action Plan 2019.
Addressing the healthcare needs of family carers enables them to continue to provide care to their loved ones. Following the enactment of the necessary legislation, free GP care was extended to those in receipt of the Carer’s Allowance or Carer’s Benefit on 1st September last year. The Department of Health has also secured funding through the Dormant Accounts fund to enable the HSE to pilot a Carer's Needs Assessment in one Community Healthcare Organisation. The HSE developed this tool with significant input from the Family Carer Reference Group, which represents a national network of over 200 carer groups across Ireland. The assessment will assist in identifying the needs of carers across all care groups and will track health and well-being outcomes for carers over time.
The Department of Health and the HSE are committed to ensuring that family carers receive as much support as possible to allow them to continue caring for their loved ones.