New scheme promised as waiting list for home care support hits 4,600
Thousands of elderly people are languishing on a waiting list for HSE home care help - and the number has risen since the beginning of the year.
The number of people waiting for HSE free home care supports has climbed to 4,600 as demand for the service, particularly among the elderly, continues to grow.
The figures - up from 4,381 at the end of last year - show the human cost of the current scheme of home care which, according to the Department of Health, has led to a patchwork system of delivery across the country.
The extent of the waiting list is revealed in a Department of Health document which was part of a public consultation launched yesterday which aims to get the views of the public on what kind of statutory home care scheme they would like to see. It is likely any scheme will involve an assessment and possibly a financial contribution.
Health Minister Simon Harris and Minister of State for Older People Jim Daly urged as many people as possible to give their opinion between now and the end of August. Mr Harris said a report will be ready at the end of the year but could give no timeline on when the scheme would be up and running.
Asked how soon it would be set up, he suggested a two-year timeframe was "ambitious" but "realistic". "It took seven years to put the Fair Deal nursing home [scheme] in place.
"We cannot take that long with this scheme because of the demographics and ageing population with a need for care. Equally, it is important to get it right," he said.
When in place, it will guarantee older people and people with a disability a minimum level of home care - but it is unclear how it will be funded.
Mr Harris insisted it would not be a replica of the Fair Deal scheme and it would also have to involve regulation of home care services for the first time.
The questionnaire accompanying the consultation signals some of the direction the eventual scheme may take. It asks the public if people who receive home care should make a financial contribution based on a means test, "taking account of the limited resources of the State". It also asks whether, if a person receives a certain level of home care services based on health need, they should purchase additional hours with their own money.
The aim is to support people who want to remain in their homes to be allowed to do so rather than having to prematurely enter a nursing home.
"It is estimated that about 20pc of the over-65 population receive some form of community-based support service annually from the State," Mr Daly said.
"I would like to find out what people also think about current home care services - what is working well and what needs to be improved."
The system of regulation of home care services has not yet been worked out. It may fall to inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority to carry out the work. But it is more complex than regulating nursing homes because it involves people's own homes.
The Department of Health document points out that currently there is no charge for home care provided by the HSE.
It will spend around €370m on home care services this year. Currently, around 49,000 people have a home help service and another 16,750 have a home care package.
There are 190 people getting intensive home care packages. Many others purchase care from private providers.