Elderly will be asked to pay more for their care in nursing homes
THE Government is set to demand that elderly people pay more for their nursing home care to cope with the escalating demands of the ageing population.
Social Care Minister Kathleen Lynch warned yesterday the current Fair Deal scheme, where the State subsidises nursing home fees, based on means, is no longer affordable in its current form.
An upcoming review of the scheme is certain to say it is unviable under existing terms. She said "the notion that you would pay €250 to €290 a week for a service which is costing €1,200 is unsustainable".
She was speaking after it emerged that while the waiting time for a nursing home place fell to 11 weeks for 1,196 on the waiting list last month, it will rise again later this year with 2,200 people facing delays of five months.
A review of the nursing home scheme is due in the coming months and it will prompt a serious look at the kind of funding which is needed to support it in the future, she told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.
There are nearly 22,151 residents whose nursing home fees are subsidised under the Fair Deal scheme introduced by former Health Minister Mary Harney in 2009. The State will spend €948.7m in 2015, up €10m on 2014.
The number of pensioners in the population is growing by 20,000 a year and the over-80s are growing by 4pc annually.
Ms Lynch said: "In its present form, there will need to be changes made to it. It is an incredible scheme. It's called Fair Deal for a very good reason because everyone has access to it. We have to take a serious look at the additional funding that will be needed. More will have to come from the public purse of course."
She said people who have never owned their own home and have no other income other than the State pension will be protected in terms of access.
Currently, residents pay 80pc of their income, 7.5pc of the value of any assets per annum. The last hike of 2.5pc was in 2013 for new entrants.
Earlier, HSE chief Tony O'Brien said the scheme was the Achilles heel of the health service and leaving patients who were facing long waits in hospital emergency departments at risk.
This is because it is not keeping pace with the numbers of mostly elderly people who are in hospital who need to be transferred to a nursing home. There are 745 of these patients occupying beds with well over 100 being added every week.
He said he was aware the waiting time for a nursing home place could place extraordinary pressures on families caring for a loved one. Access is based on chronological order and the HSE cannot provide financial assistance to people to support care outside of that.
Commenting on the crisis, Tadhg Daly of Nursing Homes Ireland said: "Government cannot continue to overlook the under-resourcing of the scheme. Responsible planning is needed."
Eamonn Timmins of Age Action Ireland warned that "the reality is that many older people who are assessed as being in need of a nursing home bed will get progressively sicker in the community while they wait, with the result that some will be admitted to their local hospital to get the 24-hour nursing care they need.
"It will result in untold hardship for older people and further disruption to hospital services."