HUNDREDS of elderly people face lengthy delays in getting a nursing home bed next year following a decision to take €23m from the scheme providing financial support for their care.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) is to transfer €23m from the Fair Deal nursing home scheme and put it towards home care packages and other community facilities.
Nursing Homes Ireland said it will mean around 939 less elderly people will get financial support under the scheme for a nursing home place.
"The demand for nursing home care is growing. At the end of September 1,268 people were waiting for support under the Fair Deal scheme," said chief executive Tadhg Daly.
Eamonn Timmins of Age Action also expressed serious concern at the decision, stating that while it welcomed any move to allow people stay in their own homes, it should not be at the expense of those who need nursing home care.
The planned provision of home care packages and home help hours for 2014 has remained at the same levels budgeted for in 2013.
While the HSE had planned to provide 10,870 home care packages in 2013, some 11,372 were provided up to the end of September.
"At a time when thousands of over-70s medical cards are being withdrawn, when existing community supports are under severe pressure, and with growing healthcare demands as a result of our ageing population, we are concerned as to how the HSE will meet the needs of the most vulnerable older people in 2014," he added.
The HSE service plan confirms its intention to remove 30,000 full medical cards from the over-70s as tighter new income limits come into force. They will get a GP visit card instead.
Around 75,000 people of all age groups will lose their medical cards next year. They include up to 25,000 who will be deemed ineligible as part of a "probity" drive aimed at saving €23m.
Around 60,000 new medical cards will be issued in 2014 but, overall, the number of card holders is expected to fall by 15,000.
Other key elements of the plan include:
* A delay until the end of the year in appointing new staff to community mental health teams.
* A €5m "value for money" cut in disability services.
* €140m savings under the Haddington Road Agreement.