As reflected by the National Carers' Strategy, the needs of family carers encompass a wide range of areas and involve a number of Government departments.
In relation to my own role as Minister for Health, I am committed to listening to family carers including grandparents who are carers together with their representative organisations. I am therefore working with my Government colleagues to ensure that we are providing the most appropriate supports to help sustain carers in their caring role. To this end, my colleague Minister Butler in her capacity as Minister of State with responsibility for Mental Health and Older People, held a roundtable with family carers on 15th September to hear about their experience as carers and how we can best support them in their caring role, in particular, given the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
It should be noted that under the existing National Carers' Strategy, a range of measures have been introduced or extended by my Department to support family carers in recent years. Since September 2018, free GP visit cards have been extended to persons in receipt of the Carer’s Allowance. The Programme for Government commits to further extending this service to recipients of the Carer's Support Grant.
The Programme for Government also commits to delivering a ‘Carers Guarantee’ that will provide a core basket of services to carers across the country, regardless of where they live. This commitment is consistent with the National Carers' Strategy, which seeks to support family carers to care with confidence through the provision of adequate information, training, services and supports. In line with this commitment, €2 million has been allocated in Budget 2021 to provide a more standard package of supports to family carers in every region. The specific measures to be introduced will be determined through service level agreements between the HSE and relevant service providers.
Financial supports for family carers such as Carer's Allowance fall under the remit of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. In the region of €1.2 billion is expected to be provided to family carers in 2020 through Carer's Allowance, Carer's Benefit, Carer's Support Grant and Domiciliary Care Allowance payments.
The HSE and disability representative bodies recognise that people with disabilities want their services resumed as quickly as possible. However, it may not be possible to restore services in exactly the same way as they operated previously, because of the unpredictable nature of COVID-19 and the need to continue to protect people from infection risk. The HSE’s A Safe Return to Health Services outlines a three phased approach to the return of health and social care services. This plan has ensured that short-stay residential and emergency/residential respite have begun to re-open since July and August. Activity will increase further in the next two phases, i.e., September – November and December 2020 to February 2021.
In line with the Governments Resilience & Recovery Framework (2020 – 2021), the HSE regards the provision of disability services as essential to maintaining a response to people with a disability, in the same way that schools and creches are. It is important to note that Government’s intention is that disability services will remain open at each level of the Resilience and Recovery Framework, subject to public health guidance.
The additional funding secured by my Department for disability specialist services in Budget 2021 will include provision for additional respite services for people with a disability and their families next year, which will be of assistance to grandparents who are carers of children with special needs.
To address the health-specific needs of family carers themselves, the HSE has developed a family carer’s support page on its website at https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/3/carerssupport/. In addition, Family Carers Ireland, which receives funding from the State, operates a freephone helpline for family carers (1800 24 07 24).