The Fair Deal scheme was brought in by the last government to ease the financial burden on people paying up to €50,000 a year to stay in private nursing homes.
Under the scheme, which now covers 20,800 residents in public and private homes, each person contributes 80pc of their income towards the cost of their care.
They also contribute 5pc of the value of their assets, such as the family home, properties and shares, per annum for a maximum of three years -- leaving the HSE to pay the balance.
Where assets include property, this sum can be paid during their lifetime or deferred until their death.
So if the cost of care is €1,000 per week and the value of the patient's contribution is €300, the HSE pays the €700 balance out of the Fair Deal fund.
The state organisation, the National Treatment Purchase Fund, negotiates with each private nursing home owner the monthly fee that they can charge residents under the scheme.