Wednesday 21 August 2019

Fair Deal crisis as elderly live longer than the HSE expects

  • Waiting list jumps by 16pc in just three weeks

  • Taxpayer bailout is likely amid funding fears

  • 'We're a victim of our own success,' says minister

  • ‘Extraordinary’ jump in figures to continue growing

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A funding crisis is looming for the Fair Deal scheme after the HSE failed to adequately budget for people living longer.

The number of people waiting for a nursing home place under the Fair Deal scheme has jumped 16pc in the space of just three weeks.

It is now likely that it will need a bailout from the Government later in the year in order to deal with the growing backlog of cases. The Irish Independent has learned that the number applying for Fair Deal this year is in line with expectations - but fewer than expected nursing home residents have passed away.

Minister of State for Older People Jim Daly confirmed there "is a significantly lower number of people leaving the scheme than was forecast in this year's HSE service plan".

However, Mr Daly said the HSE has been instructed not to breach the four to six week processing time for applications.

Figures obtained by Fianna Fáil's Mary Butler show that in the three week period from June 7 until the end of the month the number of people waiting for a placement went from 729 to 846. This upward trajectory is now expected to continue.

Ms Butler, a TD for Waterford, described the increase as "extraordinary".

"The last thing we need is a repeat of what happened in 2014 when the numbers waiting for a nursing home placement went from 654 in February of that year to 2,114 by the following October.

Concerned: Fianna Fáil TD Mary Butler obtained the figures. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Concerned: Fianna Fáil TD Mary Butler obtained the figures. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

"If the rate of increase we have seen over three June weeks continues, well over 1,000 people will be waiting by September," Ms Butler said.

The waiting lists vary significantly across the country, with the longest in Cork and the shortest in Roscommon.

It was recently revealed that new HSE director general Paul Reid was told in briefing documents by senior officials that the Fair Deal scheme is facing a deficit of €30m by the end of this year.

Under the Fair Deal scheme every person makes a contribution to the cost of their care, based on their means and the State pays the balance.

However, its operation is now being affected by the increase in life expectancy among those availing of it.

Irish people are living around five years longer than at the turn of the century.

The average age a man can hope to live to is now 78.4 years while for women they can expect an average life of 82.8 years.

"This is of course a good thing, people are living longer, but in turn the situation is putting pressure on the scheme's budget for the year," Minister Daly said.

"In many respects we are victims of our own success, with care standards improving all the time, people are living longer, but this is also costing more money."

He has requested officials to carry out a detailed analysis and provide updated projects for the scheme's budget for the year ahead. They may then have to engage with the Department of Public Expenditure "to ensure we can deliver on the commitment for the remainder of the year".

"The Fair Deal scheme is not like other general health services, it is a statutory entitlement and all political parties and none are committed to our elderly citizens being able to avail of the scheme, if and when they need to do so," said Mr Daly.

"If our forecasts are slightly out for the current year, then clearly this is a matter we will need to engage with DPER on, to ensure all citizens can avail of the scheme within the same timescale," he added.

More than 23,200 people are availing of the Fair Deal scheme and its budget was increased by €24.3m to €958.8m this year.

Irish Independent

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