'There needs to be more transparency on top-up charges'
Nursing home residents and their families must be given a full contract clearly stating all additional out-of-pocket fees before they are admitted to the facility, Minister for Older People Jim Daly said yesterday.
The minister made it clear to Nursing Homes Ireland, the organisation representing private nursing homes, that he wanted more transparency in relation to the controversial and unpopular mark-ups, which can add another €5,000 a year to costs for elderly people availing of the Fair Deal scheme.
It followed growing concern about the financial strain on elderly people levied the additional fees for social activities, therapies, incontinence wear and even medical services.
Mr Daly said he met with Nursing Homes Ireland and Age Action, which highlighted the issue.
"Both meetings were very productive and I asked both stakeholders to reflect on these matters with a view to raising transparency in respect to such charges. I suggested some areas in which transparency might be improved, including that the contracts of care, with a schedule of additional charges, should be provided to potential residents on enquiry to individual nursing homes rather than at the point of admission, so that potential residents are fully informed at an earlier stage.
"Nursing Homes Ireland agreed to this and will advise its members on the need to provide this at the earlier stage."
However, Justin Moran, of Age Action, said this does not go far enough. He wants the charges posted online and in other easily accessed areas to allow people to make proper consumer-friendly comparisons.
The issue of additional charges has now been referred to the Department of Health's working group reviewing the Fair Deal scheme. The group is to consider the options available to regulate these additional charges which vary and currently are not subject to any guidelines on cost.
The group will aim to increase the public's ability to access information about the charges. Legislation may have to be considered to make it a mandatory requirement for nursing homes involved in the Fair Deal scheme.
Age Action has prepared a report on the charges saying it is already clear that many residents are being wrongly charged for some services such as GP care even though they have a medical card. The majority of the 23,400 residents in the Fair Deal scheme are depending on private and voluntary homes for care.