I propose to take Questions Nos. 326 and 327 together.
Home supports enable older people to remain in their own homes and communities, as well as facilitating timely discharge from hospital. The Government has made improved access to home support services a priority. This is reflected in the ongoing additional investment made in these services in recent years with the budget growing from €306 million in 2015 to almost €446 million in 2019. That is about a 45% increase in the annual budget for home support.
In 2018, the total budget for the service was €416.8 million, providing over 17.5 million hours. This year the HSE intends to provide over 18.2 million home support hours, including intensive home care packages, to over 53,000 people. In 2019 almost €30 million has been added to the home support budget. When one looks at the year-on-year targets, this means that this year’s National Service Plan aims to deliver about 800,000 more hours than what was targeted in the 2018 National Service Plan.
The allocation of funding for home supports, though significant, is finite and services must be delivered within the funding available. The Home Support Service is not demand led and is therefore operated in line with agreed budgetary limits and targets as set out in the HSE National Service Plan.
The allocation has not been spent for 2019, however, to achieve compliance with its funding allocation, the HSE must ensure that the value of the total number of hours provided does not exceed the budget. This means that the HSE must manage its service delivery over the course of the year to align with the total funding available. It also has a responsibility to ensure that activity is planned to anticipate critical demand pressures, most particularly emergency pressures in the initial and latter parts of the year.
While there have been some reports to the contrary recently, it is not correct to say that no new clients will be allocated home supports for the next five months. However, we know that from the information provided by the HSE, over 6,000 people are waiting for a home support package or additional hours. The allocation of new hours will be based on clients’ needs and the resources available. Recycling of hours will continue in line with budgetary management.
While the existing home support service is delivering crucial support to many people across the country, the Government fully accepts that it needs to be further improved to better meet the changing needs of our citizens. It is for that reason that the Department is progressing the development of a new statutory scheme and system of regulation for home support services. The Sláintecare Implementation Strategy commits to the introduction of the new scheme in 2021. As part of this work my Department will be examining a number of key issues and inter-dependencies including a framework for regulation and standards, funding and staff capacity.