Saturday 16 December 2017

Secretive charges for frail nursing home residents 'must be scrapped'

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Damien Eagers
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Damien Eagers

Gavin White

Hidden costs of extra activities in nursing homes must be abolished for residents who are too frail to even participate, campaigners believe.

There is mounting concern over a raft of secretive charges - which can cost up to €5,000 a year - being imposed on residents.

A 'Sunday Independent' investigation revealed residents are being charged mandatory additional fees billed as social activities, regardless of whether they were well enough to take part.

But a landmark ruling from the office of the ombudsman offers hope for the families of 22,0000 residents in 400 private nursing homes across the country - most of whom are being stung for extra charges.

The ombudsman found in favour of a resident facing a mandatory €200 monthly fee for social activities, even though they could not participate.

And Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed such charges would be considered by his department as it examined the burden of nursing home costs.

A review is under way in the Department of Health about the pricing and value for money of the Fair Deal scheme.

Justin Moran, head of advocacy for Age Action Ireland, said the group had "serious concerns" in regards to the transparency of these charges.

He said older people who are incapable of participating in social activities should not have to pay at all.

Mr Moran said the group was worried that some homes don't publish these extra charges. "If you're on a State pension, 80pc of your income is going to the nursing home already and then you're left with €50 to €60 per week without these charges."

Mr Moran said the challenge it was facing was "making people aware" that they must go the ombudsman if they have concerns. "The ruling certainly has the potential to change things going forward," he told the Irish Independent.

Mervyn Taylor, manager of support and advocacy group Sage, said there was "enough evidence" to bring a round-table discussion for a better contract to be agreed for residents with the nursing homes.

"Charges are not only hurting the residents themselves but in many cases it will affect their spouses or the families too," he said.

Tadgh Daly, of Nursing Homes Ireland, said the State-subsidised fee under Fair Deal did not meet the day-to-day care and living requirements of nursing home residents.

He said social programmes, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and other services were essential but many were "expressly excluded" under Fair Deal. "Their costs are not included and nursing homes are required to charge for such services," he said.

Mr Harris issued a statement which said older people "must be protected".

He added: "I understand that Age Action is currently finalising a briefing document on nursing home charges and I will be asking my department to consider any issues raised in relation to additional charges."

Irish Independent

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