Bed-blocking forces HSE to offer 750 patients a Fair Deal place in nursing home
Around 750 older people - many of them trapped in hospitals for weeks - are to be offered a nursing home place under the Fair Deal scheme.
The boost in numbers follows months of "rationing" by the HSE, which has been putting a limit on the number of places allocated weekly.
It is expected that top-up funding will now be needed - in addition to the €1bn Fair Deal budget for the year - in a bid to make inroads into a waiting list of people approved for a nursing home place.
There is no cap on the Fair Deal budget, but the target to provide a nursing home place for everyone who is approved for funding within one month is not being met.
In some cases, older people are having to wait two months or longer for a place.
The move was welcomed last night by Tadhg Daly, of Nursing Homes Ireland, who said it would be a relief to the people involved as well as their families.
"Nursing homes have the capacity and are ready and willing to reduce hospital overcrowding," he said.
Around seven in 10 people who enter a nursing home come from hospital and the rest come from their homes.
The Irish Independent reported earlier this week that a record 769 patients, who are medically fit but cannot be discharged because of a lack of step-down care, are occupying hospital beds.
The numbers built up over the summer as the HSE slowed down the allocation of Fair Deal places as well as homecare supports.
However, as the temperatures drop and the flu season nears, there are fears that hospitals will again end up with A&E departments in gridlock owing to a lack of beds.
The number of older people waiting for a nursing home place under Fair Deal rose from 729 to 846 in the three weeks from June 7.
The largest waiting list was in Dublin - with 195 people approved but without the go-ahead for a nursing home place.
The HSE's 2019 service plan provides for 23,042 places, but there are already more beds being used according to the latest figures from the Department of Health.
It said performance reports indicate there were 23,252 people in Fair Deal places at the end of May.
There have been HSE estimates of a budget deficit in Fair Deal ranging from €17m to €30m this year.
Earlier this week, Health Minister Simon Harris expressed concern at the volume of patients, known as delayed discharges, who are forced to stay in hospital and occupy scarce beds.
He said he was in talks with the HSE about transferring them to suitable step-down care, including long-term nursing home places and transitional care beds.
The problem of delayed discharges will be among the serious blockages faced by the health service this coming winter.
Many hospitals are still suffering severe overcrowding despite additional beds being opened this year.
Yesterday, there were 454 patients on trolleys across the country, with University Hospital Limerick again the worst hit.
The hospital had 73 patients on trolleys, while University Hospital Galway was also struggling.