Sunday 8 December 2019

No Fair Deal for elderly stuck in hospital wards

Taxpayers' €4m-a-week bill to keep elderly in hospital as they wait for nursing home places

Critics say waiting lists are now out of control.
Critics say waiting lists are now out of control.

Allison Bray

It's costing taxpayers more than €500,000 a day, or €4m a week, to keep elderly people languishing in hospital beds waiting for funding for a 'Fair Deal' nursing home bed, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The Government introduced the scheme in 2009 to give financial support to people needing long-term nursing home care through the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Patients pay a portion of their care and the State covers the rest.

But critics say the waiting lists are now out of control.

The vulnerable elderly are waiting for more than 15 weeks for funding approval because €35m was taken out of the €998m scheme in the 2014 Budget.

About €23m of the money was re-directed to home care and community services. One in four of those waiting for a nursing-home space are being kept in hospital beds while they await approval.

Independent TD Denis Naughten, the former Fine Gael chair of the Dail's Committee on Health and Children, said his analysis of official figures show 25pc of more than 2,000 people currently awaiting approval for funding under the Fair Deal nursing-home support scheme are in hospital awaiting a nursing-home bed.

It costs taxpayers approximately €850 a week to care for an elderly patient at a nursing home under the scheme. And the Exchequer pays roughly the same amount or more each day that they remain in a hospital setting, he said.

Last month, Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch confirmed that 2,135 people are waiting just over 15 weeks for approval under the scheme.

That number fluctuates but the overall statistics point to a four-fold increase in waiting list numbers since January when around 512 people were on the list for an average of just four weeks.

The Dail's Public Accounts Committee was told last month that there were 704 "delayed discharges" at public hospitals at the end of August, 74pc of whom, or 522 patients, were awaiting approval under the Fair Deal scheme to be transferred to a nursing home.

Nursing Home Ireland (NHI), representing public and private nursing homes, estimates the cost is even higher, at an average daily cost of €585,684 for 522 hospital patients currently awaiting funding based on an average daily hospital cost of €1,122.

Cost aside, Fianna Fail's health spokesman Billy Kelleher - who raised the issue in the Dail again last week - called the situation "morally bankrupt".

"Not only are elderly or infirm people forced to wait an average of four months before they get approval, the funding is not backdated, so they must also bear the cost of their waiting time themselves and are facing "extraordinarily high bills".

"If you leave aside the human element, it makes no financial sense to do what they're doing," he told the Sunday Independent.

"All in all, it's a false economy and it's fundamentally wrong that people who are old and frail are waiting an average of 15 weeks," he added.

Deputy Kelleher tabled a private member's motion on Wednesday night calling on the Government to take "urgent action" to ensure that the 2015 HSE Service Plan, due to be released soon, reverses cuts in Fair Deal funding in the 2014 Budget.

In response, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said neither he nor Ms Lynch are "happy or satisfied" and are "doing everything they can to reduce the Fair Deal waiting list in the coming weeks".

He added that a review of the scheme will be published early next year.

But in the meantime, older people and their families are suffering, said new independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-South Leitrim).

He told who the Dail that he is getting families "crying over the phone" while they await funding.

"It's horrendous," he told the Sunday Independent.

Deputy Fitzmaurice has been supplied with details about a family in his constituency whose elderly parent waited for more than 24 weeks at the Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, before they finally got funding approval for a nursing home bed.

Sunday Independent

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