Nursing homes including religious services in paid activities 'bundle'
Nursing home residents are being charged for religious services as part of a "bundle" levied on a weekly or monthly basis.
It is the first time private nursing homes have confirmed that religious services can be part of the controversial top-up charges imposed on residents.
It follows revelations by Dublin Independent Councillor Christy Burke that he was informed a €20 Mass charge was being imposed on some nursing home residents.
The charges bundle, which would cover activities and social programmes, can include religious services in the facility, said Tadhg Daly, of Nursing Homes Ireland.
He said pastoral services can include Mass, First Friday visits or visits to the sick, as well as apostolic prayer groups.
But Mr Daly said he was "unaware" of any specific Mass charge.
Priests do not charge for their services, but it is tradition to make a donation of appreciation.
However, Councillor Burke said the claims that residents were being charged for Mass now needed to be investigated by Health Minister Simon Harris.
Justin Moran, head of advocacy and communications with Age Action, said testimonies from families about the charges warranted an independent investigation.
"There needs to be a full investigation of the nature and scale of the additional fees being imposed on many nursing home residents," he said.
"We've recorded examples of people with medical cards being charged for doctor services, of people being charged for services they physically cannot use, and now there are new reports of people being charged to attend Mass.
"Fair Deal is publicly funded to the tune of €1bn, but there are basic issues of transparency and fairness in how some nursing homes are levying additional charges on residents that are simply not being addressed.
"We would urge the Government and the HSE to tackle this problem and to support older people in nursing homes and their families."
The Department of Health, which is reviewing the Fair Deal nursing home scheme, confirmed yesterday it was to embark on an "information-gathering exercise" on the extent of the top-up charges.
Minister for Older People Jim Daly is to meet with Ombudsman Peter Tyndall to discuss nursing home charges.
A spokesman for the Ombudsman's office previously upheld a complaint in relation to charges imposed on a resident who could not take part in "social programme" activities in a particular nursing home.
As a result of the complaint, residents in the nursing home who do not have the capacity to take part in the social programme will be charged a nominal fee only.
Residents in the home will have input into the content and design of the social programme if an increase in the charge is being considered.
They will now receive a breakdown of the activities involved in the programme before signing up to those activities on admission.
But the ruling applies only to the nursing home at the centre of the complaint.
There are no regulations to compel the roll-out to other nursing homes.