THE funding crisis that has crippled the Fair Deal nursing home scheme has left almost 500 elderly people confined to hospital indefinitely.
The 477 elderly people --who no longer need to be in an acute hospital -- cannot leave hospital, freeing the beds for other patients, until their applications for grants under the scheme have been approved.
Although their applications are being processed, the HSE cannot approve them because it only has enough funds to pay for those already in nursing homes.
The 477 will have to remain in acute hospitals, which are desperately in need of beds for ill patients, or make some other arrangements until the Fair Deal funding crisis is resolved.
Health Minister Dr James Reilly wants the HSE to put €100m of cash earmarked for nursing home support -- but which was spent on therapies and drugs -- back into the scheme. It is unclear where this money will now come from.
The latest figures for delayed discharges in hospitals -- people who no longer need the intensive level of care an acute hospital provides -- show that 477 patients are blocking beds because they need financial aid to move to a nursing home.
Figures show that 255 people who have had the application fully processed are waiting for approval.
Last year just 140 of those who applied for assistance were refused or had their applications withdrawn, cancelled or declined.
Applications are refused where the person involved is not deemed to need long-term care and where their contribution, based on their means, exceeds the cost of the nursing home and thus they can meet the entire fees themselves.
The HSE estimates that around 350 people would qualify every month if the scheme had not been stalled.
The number of people receiving financial support under the scheme since December has risen from 13,849 to 16,279 at the end of March.
The HSE decision to suspend approvals was made on May 13 and a copy of the letter was sent to the Department of Health.
An examination of funding is under way and a decision on when approvals can be resumed is expected shortly.