Friday 23 August 2019

Cormac McQuinn: 'Demographic time-bomb has gone off, adding to service's woes'

 

Stock image
Stock image
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The life expectancy of Irish people has steadily risen over the years as the country becomes more wealthy and medical advances see workers enjoy more years in retirement.

It is of course a good thing that people are living longer as Jim Daly - the junior health minister with responsibility for the care of older people - has said.

He's also correct to say it's putting pressure on services like Fair Deal where there is a looming funding crisis. And it's a problem that's only going to get worse as Ireland's population continues to age.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

It is undeniably a massive challenge for Ireland's creaking health service.

Each year the trolley crisis lays this bare for everyone to see due to the large proportion of elderly patients among those waiting for hospital beds.

And it's also predominantly elderly patients who are trapped in hospital after they become healthy again as they wait for nursing home places or home-help supports to be released.

Now it's been revealed that the number of people waiting for a nursing home place under the Fair Deal scheme has jumped 16pc in just three weeks.

A deficit has arisen in the scheme because while the numbers applying are in line with expectations, fewer existing residents than anticipated have passed away this year.

Again, this is a very good thing, but it also indicates a serious problem in the funding situation for a scheme that so many families rely on for the care their loved ones need in their later years.

Government plans to overhaul Fair Deal to make it easier for farmers and small business owners to pay for nursing home places are set to cost €10m a year and will only add to the pressure on the system.

The HSE budget of around €16bn is at its highest level ever - but it appears to not be enough to cover the needs of Ireland's growing and aging population.

Earlier this month the Irish Independent revealed the details of warnings by senior HSE management to the new director general Paul Reid in briefings for their new boss.

One of these, from senior HSE figure Liam Woods, said that "funding to the HSE is not matching the estimate of the demographic impact of demand for health services".

Other concerns raised included a Budget deficit of up to €30m in 2019 for the Fair Deal scheme and funding limits being reached on home-care expenditure.

The HSE said that this potential shortfall could be more like €17m after a further analysis of "applications, leavers and costs".

That remains to be seen and the overall deficit for the HSE as a whole already stands at more than €116m this year, so a bailout from the Government seems likely again.

Longer lifespans are quite obviously a positive thing with more people getting to enjoy more well-deserved retirement years in better health than decades past.

But a demographic time-bomb has gone off and it's adding to the HSE's woes.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss