Harney warns nursing home owners

NURSING home owners have been warned against passing on inspection charges to residents.

Heath Minister Mary Harney said she would take grave exception to residents having to meet the charges themselves, but drew a line on taking action against them.

The minister, who was speaking at Nursing Home Ireland’s (NHI) annual conference in Dublin, said nursing home owners should pay for their own regulation in the same way as members of the medical profession.

The Department of Health has said that the annual charge of €190 a bed should be met by the homes themselves, while HIQA has said that only fees set out in the contract for care can be charged.

It may be possible, however, for the charge to be factored into the overall cost negotiated between the nursing home and patients each year.

NHI chief executive Tadhg Daly said a nursing home with 50 beds would have to pay close to €10,000 a year in fees to the Health Information Quality Authority under the new scheme that began in July.

He also warned that, for many mid-sized nursing homes, the new charges meant the difference between breaking even and closing down.

Mr Daly also warned that waiting lists for nursing home places were inevitable if the Fair Deal scheme was not properly funded.

“It is imperative that this scheme is resourced, operated efficiently and as speedily as possible,” said the NHI chief executive.

Under the scheme, nursing home residents can postpone paying some of the cost of their care until after their death.

People can begin applying for nursing home places under the initiative next week.

Mr Daly said the Nursing Home Support Scheme booklet, published by the Department of Health, states that there might be situations where a person’s name must go onto a waiting list until funding became available.

The organisation also called for services such as therapies, ophthalmic, dental and social programmes to be included in the Fair Deal Scheme and not viewed as optional extras.

Meanwhile, Age Action Ireland said the Government has a moral obligation to protect vulnerable older people in the budget. Spokesman Eamon Timmins said the challenge facing the Government was not just one of balancing expenditure against tax revenue.

“It also has a very real obligation to protect its most vulnerable citizens, by ensuring that any changes in policy or spending do not hurt those who cannot take any more hardship,” he said.

Mr Timmins was speaking during Age Action’s presentation to the pre-budget forum hosted by Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin in Dublin yesterday.

He pointed out that around 60% of older people have a chronic illness, 30% had a disability and half lived on very low incomes. Almost a third of those over 85 lived alone – two-thirds were women, surviving on very low incomes.

“These people, who have so little, have the most to lose if their needs are ignored by those who are drawing up the budget,” said Mr Timmins.

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