373 suspected abuse cases at homes
A total of 373 reports were made last year of alleged, suspected or confirmed abuse of older people in care homes.
Watchdog the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said it received 5,362 alerts of potentially harmful events in care homes up and down the country during 2013.
Among them were 4,246 reports of serious injury to a resident.
But the most concerning figure involved the 373 instances of reported abuse in 195 out of the 566 care homes in either the state or private sector.
Phelim Quinn, Hiqa's director of regulation and chief inspector of social services, said despite the high figures, safety and quality standards are improving.
But he warned: "It is clear from this report that there are areas where further improvement is required and we will focus on these areas as part of our continued regulatory activities."
The Hiqa report is the first annual overview on the regulation of nursing homes since the rules were introduced more than four years ago.
Its report said inspectors carried out 814 checks of 565 residential centres for older people in 2013.
It recorded 293 notifications of outbreaks of infectious disease; 171 reports of unexplained absence from a home; and 95 reports of alleged misconduct by the care provider or a member of staff.
On abuse, Hiqa said its inspectors identified 303 actions needed to ensure homes complied with rules to prevent issues over residents' finances in 174 of the centres.
Hiqa said it received unsolicited information 355 times relating to 213 centres last year, most of which came from concerned relatives of residents. Others came from staff in the care homes, health professionals visiting the homes to work and residents themselves.
Most of the information being relayed to inspectors centred on the quality and safety of care, staffing issues and other complaints associated with fees, discharge decisions and contracts of care.
Age Action said it was concerned about the high level of serious injuries reported by nursing homes and the notifications of abuse, which care homes are bound by law to report.
"The report not only highlights the great need which exists for an independent inspection authority, but also the need for nursing home management to improve their service when it comes to issues of health and safety and risk management," spokesman Eamon Timmins said.
"This must involve training, supervision and strict adherence to the existing procedures and protocols."
Issues were also identified with medicines in 325 care homes with changes required on the ordering, prescribing, storing and administering of drugs to residents and the handling and disposing of unused or out-of-date medicines.
Inspectors also looked at issues relating to food and found that more than half of the homes reviewed - 30 out of the 52 chosen for this area - were fully compliant in relation to food and nutrition.
It said there were only seven findings of moderate non-compliances and 15 minor non-compliances, such as a lack of choice or issues over staffing levels at meal times or small dining rooms.
Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) said that of the 565 registered care centres and homes, one was forced to close last year.
"NHI recognises the critical role of Hiqa in supporting care provision and will continue to be proactive in engagement with the authority to continually drive improvements in care delivery for older persons in residential care," the organisation said.