Health officials stall probe into €17m 'extras' in nursing homes
The Government is continuing to stall on setting up a proper investigation of nursing home top-up charges, despite indications that the elderly may be squeezed for an additional €17m a year in 'extras'.
The Department of Health yesterday refused to commit to surveying individual nursing homes on how much they are charging in additional fees to Fair Deal residents and what services they are delivering for these levies.
It has been left to Age Action and the media to probe the extent of the unpopular charges which can be as high as €16,900 a year in out-of-pocket extras for some residents.
A spokeswoman for Older People Minister Jim Daly repeated earlier responses on the controversy, saying a project team will "identify and examine" the key issues on the additional charges and analyse the implications.
However, this will not involve any survey of nursing homes, although it would take officials a few days to find out the information from homes which are being paid €1bn by the taxpayer under the Fair Deal scheme.
Once this project team has finished its work, an interdepartmental group will then consider the issue again and report back to Mr Daly.
He will then confirm the "next steps", which may include research.
However, the officials, for now, will not conduct any survey to find out what the level of charges are, or quiz individual nursing homes. This means they will be reaching decisions without any crucial evidence - reducing the chance of any urgent action being taken.
An undercover investigation by the 'Sunday Independent', which looked at charges by 330 private nursing homes, found more than two-thirds were imposing additional charges that ranged from €1 a day to as high as €325 a week.
The services provided for the extra charges vary between nursing homes and are inconsistent. They can include a levy for social activities, such as games, outings and arts and crafts. Some include a doctor service charge even if the resident has a medical card.
The most expensive charge is levied by Leeson Park nursing home in Dublin 6, where it ranges from €125 a week for a resident in a shared room to €325 for a resident in a single room.
In response, the Silver Stream Group, which operates the nursing home, said it provided "premium" nursing care.
All nursing home residents agree in advance the fee structure depending on the care options and accommodation requirements. The level of fees had not increased since 2008, it said.
Justin Moran of Age Action warned that the Government had shown very little movement on the issue of additional charges, despite it now being months since the practice was first highlighted.
"You need evidence to make the right decisions," he said.
Department officials should be finding out themselves what each nursing home is charging and also importantly what the resident is getting for these payments, he added.
Nursing Homes Ireland, which represents private nursing homes, has denied that the charges are "hidden".
The resident's contract "detailing charges for services is presented prior to or on their admission to the home", said the organisation's chief executive Tadhg Daly.
It wants the department to speed up the overdue review of the cost of care under the Fair Deal scheme.
About 23,000 people are availing of the Fair Deal scheme.