Monday 5 December 2016

We cannot afford free home help for all: Harris

Published 11/11/2016 | 02:30

Minister Simon Harris
Minister Simon Harris

Health Minister Simon Harris has warned that the HSE's current system of providing home help for free, regardless of a person's income, is "unsustainable".

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It means it is increasingly likely a new statutory scheme will be put in place which would force people to make a financial contribution to the HSE for the service, after an assessment of means.

"Why should the only statutory scheme be for going to a nursing home?" he asked after being quizzed on the ongoing delays and cuts faced by the elderly and people with a disability who need home care or a home package.

Mr Harris, who was appearing before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, is coming under growing pressure as the "winter initiative" is already showing signs of struggle.

There were 538 medically discharged patients, many of whom need home care packages, occupying beds yesterday.

A new scheme would give people a statutory right to home care - but the downside is that it would no longer be free and instead require payments.

And it would also involve an unwelcome examination of assets to determine the level of payment.

"I don't think the current model is sustainable unless we look at the statutory underpinning of it," he said.

University Hospital Galway continued to grapple with 38 patients on trolleys yesterday.

On Wednesday there were trolleys backed up on both sides of its corridor around the department with just four nurses looking after 38 people.

Referring to hospital waiting lists - which are now at a record with over 535,000 in the queue - Mr Harris said a number of initiatives were under way.

By the end of the year, he expects nobody to be waiting for an endoscopy diagnostic procedure for longer than 12 months.

Ballot

Around €7m is being spent on patients who need orthopaedic procedures and 600 should benefit.

"Already 354 patients have either been treated or given an appointment to receive treatment within six weeks," he said.

Referring to the upcoming nurses' ballot for industrial action to secure more incentives to recruit and retain staff, he said: "The budget for the year is the budget for the year. I have no more money open to me to deal with new claims."

He believed that grievances in relation to the Lansdowne Road Agreement should be dealt with within the structure of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, of which the nurses' union is a member.

Irish Independent

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