Varadkar: Old nursing homes must stay open
The decision to extend the deadline to upgrade or close old-fashioned HSE-run nursing homes to 2021 gives necessary "breathing space", the Health Minister insisted yesterday.
Leo Varadkar said it is not possible to close them until the works are completed.
The minister was responding to accusations of "double standards" by Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI), which represents private nursing homes that had to meet the requirements by July.
However, the minister said work on many of the 100 or more public nursing homes, caring for around 7,000 residents, cannot be done overnight.
"The point is that Minister of State Kathleen Lynch and myself have secured a budget for refurbishment," he said.
The Government's capital plan allocated around €300m for works on the buildings, some of which are old workhouses.
"We have big problems with bed capacity in our hospitals," he said. "The facilities are needed to cater for the demands of the older population needing nursing home care."
However, Tadhg Daly, head of NHI, said the announcement by Ms Lynch that the deadline for public nursing homes was being extended by six years amounts to electioneering.
"The minister herself has previously acknowledged extensive works are required within HSE units so this raises serious questions re: the conditions people within them are being asked to live in," he said.
"Very disappointingly, it appears very evident what applies is one rule for HSE nursing homes and another for their private and voluntary counterparts. Under this present Government, the long-awaited review of the Fair Deal scheme was considerably delayed. When it was published it was effectively a whitewash."
NHI is now examining the possibility of legal action, he confirmed.
A spokesman for the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), which has condemned the physical state of several HSE-run homes, said that as a statutory agency it is bound by Government policy.
"Hiqa, while disappointed that the national standards have not been met in some nursing homes to date, does welcome the commitment to invest in public, private and voluntary run nursing homes to bring them up to the required standards," it said.
"As an independent authority, our primary focus is in protecting the rights and dignity and ensuring the safety of some of our most vulnerable people using the services we regulate.
"Our work plans and business objectives are informed by a variety of factors, including Government policy, and any change in Government policy will be reflected in the conduct of our legal mandate. However, our focus of ensuring that the people using the services we regulate are safe remains unchanged."
Hiqa said it is committed to ensuring that services for people in these homes are safe. It has consistently highlighted the lack of modern facilities and layout of several of these homes, which impinge on the dignity and privacy of residents who may have to spend their final years in large Nightingale wards.
Age Action Ireland called for greater urgency.