Elderly and vulnerable people getting essential food delivered daily to their homes could face paying more for meals on wheels services.

Already ten of the country's 263 services have increased meal prices by as much as €1.50 and others could follow, according to the National Meals on Wheels Network which represents the services.

Each year 2.7 million meals are delivered to 210,000 elderly and vulnerable people in Ireland.

National Meals on Wheels Network Co-ordinator Tracey Noone confirmed that rising fuel, food and transport costs are impacting some services.

She confirmed ten meals on wheels services have already put up prices but added many of the services she represents are resisting price hikes for as long as they can.

"All of the providers have been experiencing the increase in their food costs. They are doing absolutely everything they can to absorb these rising costs without passing it on to users."

Ms Noone said: "Some of the providers have had to increase the cost of their meal for the first time in many, many years."

Tracey Noone said many services are resisting price hikes for as long as they can

Athlone Meals and Wheels delivers 156 meals every day and has seen the number of people using its service increase by 25%.

Its manager Mags O’Donnell said that people who joined her meals on wheels service during the Covid-19 pandemic remained with the service because it is a cheaper way to feed themselves.

"The Covid affect had an impact. People weren’t getting out and then a lot of those people have stayed on the service because they were getting a decent meal for €4 or €5 a day and it was cheaper for them to get this than actually go out and buy their shopping."

Ms O’Donnell said: "At the moment we see the costs of running the service - from buying the basics from the veg, the potatoes, the meat - everything has really increased in price. Then the cost of our electricity and gas bills has also increased dramatically.

"The majority of the people who are getting the service are already struggling and we are trying not to increase the price to ease the burden on them."

Tom Collins, 81, gets five meals a week from Athlone Meals on Wheels and said the service helped him when he had a hip replacement.

"It is very handy for me. If I get the other hip done I’ll be immobile for probably six or seven weeks. Long may it last because they are doing a terrific job."

Tom Collins said meals on wheels was very beneficial to him

The National Meals on Wheels Network confirmed that on top of the cost pressures there is a growing demand from people who traditionally would not have used the service, including families experiencing poverty, homeless people and refugees from Ukraine.

It comes as Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler will tell a conference later today in Athlone, "meals on wheels provides an important connection and support to many older people in our communities", and that she secured an "an additional €1.8 million in this year’s budget specifically to support the development and expansion of the meals on wheels service".

The conference, 'Celebrating the Role of Meals on Wheels in Ireland – Now and into the Future’, is the first of its type organised by the National Meals on Wheels Network.

The conference will be officially opened by Minister Butler and aims to bring providers together to share information.

At the event, meals on wheels providers will tell the minister about their services, how they operate, the challenges they face and how they overcome them.

Ms Noone said the conference is an opportunity to bring providers and other key stakeholders together to share information and discuss how the service can continue to be embedded as an essential frontline community service into the future.

"It also gives Irish Rural Link and the National Meals on Wheels Network the opportunity to listen, communicate and engage with all involved in the service to learn what the challenges are on the ground and work together to ensure the service is recognised as one of the key players in delivering community health and social care."

CEO of Irish Rural Link CEO Seamus Boland said the conference will highlight the important role meals on wheels plays in the delivery of health and social care in the community.

"Funding from the HSE for the full-time coordinator has allowed the network to grow and be a stronger voice for the service as well as being a support for providers and a platform for them to share learnings and information."