Nursing homes have been ordered to end the use of hidden charges for residents or face the prospect of new laws, regulations, or potential funding cuts for the sector.
Health Minister Simon Harris warned bosses of nursing homes to end the fees, telling them that “they need to fix the problem or I’ll fix it”.
He said facilities cannot continue to force unexpected costs on vulnerable older people.
In recent months, it has emerged that a number of nursing homes across the country have been asking residents to pay for services they were previously told were free.
While nursing homes have said that they are seeking to reduce the use of the hidden charges, a number of facilities have declined to cancel them and others have noted increased costs mean some of the fees will have to remain.
Speaking to reporters at the Nursing Homes Ireland conference yesterday, Mr Harris said that if the situation does not end now, he may consider imposing regulations or potential funding cuts to force them.
“I’d like to fix this in association with nursing homes, but they need to fix the problem or I’ll fix it,” said Mr Harris.
“We can’t have a situation, and nobody wants a situation, where there are hidden charges. I welcome the fact Nursing Homes Ireland shares that view. I want to see real and quick progress on this and if we don’t I will examine the options open to me.”
Asked what specific actions he may take if the hidden charges continue, Mr Harris said: “I genuinely believe we can make great progress through collaboration, but let’s remember, the State is the biggest purchaser of nursing home beds.
“That gives the State great leverage — be it regulation, be it through legislation in terms of the Fair Deal scheme in terms of how it operates, or be it through payment from the National Treatment Purchase Fund.
“I do keep all of those levers at my disposal and I won’t be afraid to use them if needs be.”
While it is still in its early stages, the issue may be addressed in some form through the HSE’s 2018 budget — known as its service plan — due to be given to Mr Harris in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Mr Harris has defended potential plans to ask older people to pay to receive certain home care supports in the future.
Asked about the plans, which are likely to be introduced within two years, he said while they will lead to extra costs for people, no existing service will be affected and the potential policy is designed to ensure people can remain in their homes.
“At the moment, the State recognises you need long-term care but the only option for long-term care is in a nursing home,” he said.
“We should have another way, another route, and yes, that would involve co-payments.
“I’m not talking about people paying for the home help they have in their home today, not at all.
“I’m talking about when people are assessed as being eligible for Fair Deal having an option instead of taking Fair Deal in a nursing home.”
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