Nursing homes to be phased out in the next 20 years - Jim Daly

Minister plans to introduce retirement villages for older people

Minister for Older People Jim Daly. Picture: Arthur Carron.

Philip Ryan

Nursing homes will be entirely phased out within the next 20 years and replaced by retirement villages, Minister for Older People Jim Daly has said.

The minister said he plans to drastically reduce the country's reliance on the traditional nursing-home model and move towards keeping older people in their own homes for as long as possible.

At a dinner organised by Nursing Homes Ireland last Thursday, Mr Daly asked the industry to back his proposal to radically reform care for older people.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent after the event, the minister said: "We have made great progress with efforts to keep people at home for longer in recent years -the average stay in a nursing home has reduced seven years down to two.

"We need to reduce that stay further, and aim to phase out the nursing-home model over the next two decades or so as it currently exists.

"In mental-health services we had 20,000 inpatient beds 50 years ago, and that figures is now down to just 1,000 as a result of supporting people to get well in the community setting," he added.

The minister's comments come ahead of a major conference on housing supports for older people, which is being held in Farmleigh House in Dublin on Tuesday.

The event, hosted by former broadcaster Vincent Browne, will hear from a range of experts on housing and industry leaders in providing care for older people.

Mr Daly said "loneliness, helplessness and boredom" have been associated with elderly care for too long and it was now time for new thinking on how to provide care to people in their older years.

"The thought of our loved ones sitting in a chair with their head thrown sideways and their mouth open is something we all dread," he said.

The minister said he plans to introduce a new model of care for older people which will ensure everyone has "their own front door", unless they become acutely ill and need hospital care.

"Current residential care providers will play a key role in delivering this service. However, government policy must change to allow this to happen, and outdated funding streams locked in silo-based policies must be broken down," he added. The model being examined would involve the construction of small communities of housing which would have access to local health and social services.

Older people could live and interact with other residents of a similar age while being able to access regular health check-ups. Experts say people live longer when they are in their own homes.

"The Department of Housing has not been shy of funding the construction of the standalone houses across the country," Mr Daly said.

"However a mechanism needs be found to include private providers in workable, sustainable policies that will not just allow them to build, but to also provide health and social services to residents living in the housing units.

"The Department of Housing needs to play a part in funding construction of the houses and the Department of Health needs to play a part in funding the care of the resident in the house. We need to foster and promote a culture change to encourage older people to downsize from their living accommodation to smaller settings as their needs change," he added.

Tuesday's conference will hear from the The Abhaile Project, the firm road-testing Shane Ross's 'granny flat grant' proposal.