Labour: Nursing homes bill unfair and denies elderly free healthcare

THE long-awaited Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill raises as many concerns as it addresses, Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan says.

While it would provide some welcome relief to families in debt to nursing homes and desperate for an end to their plight, it was “very far” from what was promised, she said.

Ms O’Sullivan, who is the Labour party’s spokeswoman on health, said the proposed legislation contained some very worrying elements.

In particular, it removed the right to free healthcare, enshrined in the 1970 Health Act.

“This singles out the elderly in need of long-term institutional care from all other citizens,” she claimed.

Ms O’Sullivan said the removal of rights was of deep concern to the Labour party and to organisations such as Age Action Ireland and the Irish Senior Citizens’ Parliament. She also noted the scheme was resource-capped so, if the money ran out, so did the support, a move that her party would be vigorously opposing.

And, she said, it looked as if a large number of people would not qualify because they would not fulfil the assessment criteria by not being dependent enough.

Ms O’Sullivan said it would be fine if the supports that older people needed to live in the community were there, but that was not the case. Home-help hours had been cut and healthcare package funding and home adaptation budgets had dried up. And, while Health Minister Mary Harney had declared in December 2006 that no surviving relative would ever have to remortgage their home to pay for nursing home care, mortgages were specifically mentioned in the bill.

Ms O’Sullivan said the minister had also dodged the constitutional issues of property by making after-death payment optional, but if this option was not taken, the money would have to be paid anyway.

Nursing Home Ireland (NHI), the representative group for the private and voluntary nursing home sector, welcomed the bill and said the provision of adequate funding was the key to its success.

NHI chief executive, Tadhg Daly, said families were paying up to €52,000 a year to keep relatives in long-stay nursing home care. The organisation has urged Finance Minister Brian Lenihan to use next week’s budget to show the Government’s commitment to protecting the older person and supporting families in providing care to this vulnerable group. He pointed out more than 88% of older people in nursing homes are in medium-to-high dependency categories.

Fine Gael’s Health spokesman Dr James Reilly said the bill, while welcome, would require careful scrutiny. He was particularly concerned about the medical assessment of patients.

“I will not support legislation which says to vulnerable, elderly people, ‘you’re not sick enough; you’re on your own’.”

Dr Reilly said the minister should also look for interim funding because the new scheme would not be in place until next year and families struggling with massive costs, under the current arrangement, needed to be helped.

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