Closure of over 1,200 public nursing home beds criticised
ABOUT 1,200 beds in public nursing homes have been closed since the Government came to power, according to new figures supplied by the Health Service Executive.
The cuts were criticised yesterday by Sinn Féin and trade union Siptu, who both accused Minister for Health James Reilly of favouring private care of older people over public facilities.
They coincide with mounting concern among policymakers over the future needs for residential care caused by an ageing population. Earlier this week, a report found that every day for the next decade an additional seven people would need long-term residential care. The number of over-85s in the population will more than double over the next decade.
There has also been a slowdown in the provision of private nursing home beds due to uncertainty about funding and difficulties in raising bank finance.
Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, who obtained the figures from the HSE, said the situation was even worse than he had anticipated.
“With over 1,200 public nursing home beds taken out of the system over a 20-month period, and with further bed closures signalled, we are certainly facing a crisis in services for older people,” Mr Ó Caoláin said.
He accused Dr Reilly of “burning the candle at both ends” by imposing savage cuts on home help hours and homecare packages while at the same time closing down public nursing home beds and diminishing the capacity of long-stay public residential facilities.
“This Minister has no strategy or plan to protect our public health services and even less regard for the needs of older people,” he said.
Siptu spokesman Paul Bell accused the Government of abandoning public nursing care and said a situation where 75 per cent of beds were provided by the private sector was “unbalanced”. He called on the Dáil Public Accounts Committee to investigate the costs of the Government’s strategy of “divesting itself of responsibility for care of older people”.
According to the HSE, 443 public nursing home beds were closed this year up to August, while 758 were closed last year. A further 112 beds have been identified for closure later this year.
Bed closures include 230 in HSE South region, 199 in Dublin/North-East, 322 in West and 450 in Dublin/Mid-Leinster.
The HSE attributed the closures to service plan commitments, staffing reductions and the inability of some homes to meet compliance requirements of the Health Information and Quality Authority. It said a number of new public long-stay beds have come on stream in new units in Cork, Navan, Dublin, Tralee and Mullingar.