Independent inspectors will make unannounced visits to public and private nursing homes under sweeping new powers being introduced from today -- and they will be able to force the closure of homes that fail to meet strict standards.
Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) inspectors take over the monitoring of nursing homes from the Health Service Executive (HSE) today.
Significantly, the move includes HSE-run nursing homes, which previously were not monitored for standards such as facilities and staffing.
Residents will be asked their views and inspectors will examine daily care, quality of accommodation, meals and other facilities.
Dr Marion Witton, Chief Inspector of Social Services at HIQA, said: "this new development in the regulation of nursing homes is a significant step forward in the protection of the rights of older people living in residential care settings. Residents, relatives and the public will know what to expect in a residential-care setting, regardless of where the service is located or who delivers it."
All nursing homes will have to formally register in order to operate.
Ms Witton said if HIQA inspectors found a service was unsafe or the standards were not being met, she would have the legal power to actions in the best interest of the residents. These include prosecuting for offences or cancelling registration of a centre, so it will no longer be able to operate.
All reports will be published by HIQA after the inspection.
"We will report publicly on what it is like to be a resident in each centre," she added.
Tadhg Daly of Nursing Homes Ireland said he welcomed the move, pointing out that, for the first time, all private, voluntary and HSE-run nursing homes will be inspected.
"It is vital that the regulation and inspection regime is effective, proportionate and transparent. Our members have, for many years, adopted the approach outlined in the standards, including setting up residents councils and groups, as it is the residents and their families who are best placed to provide feedback," said Mr Daly.
"It is essential that the standards are applied to each home, and by each inspector, to the same degree. Consistency is essential for independent inspection and regulation," he added.