Nursing homes will have to publish their top-up fees
Fair Deal working group set to be asked to investigate extra charges
Private nursing homes are expected to be forced to publicly display the extra out-of-pocket fees, amounting to €70 a week in some cases, which are being levied on elderly residents.
The demand for more transparency has been called for by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) in an internal document to the Department of Health seen by the Irish Independent.
The NTPF, which sets the price each private nursing home charges under the State-subsidised Fair Deal scheme, said this visibility is needed to avoid "sharp practice".
It is understood that Health Minister Simon Harris and Minister for Older People Jim Daly are to direct that an examination of these extra mark-ups, which cover a range of services including social activities, therapies and incontinence wear, be referred to a working group which is currently reviewing Fair Deal costs.
Mr Daly is to meet today with Age Action and Nursing Homes Ireland, representing private nursing homes, to discuss the growing public concern about these additional charges which are leaving many elderly people and their families under financial strain.
He said: "Mr Harris and I are committed to ensuring that our older population are protected and get the care that they need and deserve.
"Under the Nursing Homes Support Scheme, or Fair Deal, the nursing home provider must agree a contract in writing with each resident, on their admission to the nursing home.
"This contract must include details of the services to be provided to that resident and the fees to be charged. Core living expenses are covered under Fair Deal but residents can still incur other charges, for things such as social programmes, newspapers or hairdressing.
"These charges must be set out in the contract and residents should never be charged fees which are not set out in the contract. In recognition of this, anyone in receipt of financial support under Fair Deal retains at least 20pc of their income.
"I know that concerns have been expressed about the fact that many private nursing homes are now charging an additional flat rate fee - often billed as a 'social charge' - which can apply even if the residents are not able to participate in the activities, or do not wish to. This is an issue which I will discuss in detail with Age Action and Nursing Homes Ireland. As minister I want to ensure that all of our older people are protected and have all the information they need to make informed choices.
"I would also like to take this opportunity to encourage anyone who has concerns about additional nursing home charges to raise them, in the first instance, with the service provider in question through its complaints procedure. If there are still concerns they can then take their case to the Office of the Ombudsman."
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Age Action's Justin Moran warned residents on low incomes are particularly affected.
Under the Fair Deal scheme residents pay 80pc of their income weekly and 7.5pc of the value of assets annually.
However, Tadhg Daly of Nursing Homes Ireland said Fair Deal just covers basics, essentially bed and board. The additional services fall outside what is covered under Fair Deal and "nursing homes are required to charge" for them, he added.
Details are contained in the resident's contract for care and this must be agreed on admission to the home, he added.
He argued the Fair Deal payments to private nursing homes do not reflect the reality of the full health and social care costs.
The majority of the 23,450 residents in Fair Deal are in private nursing homes.