State ‘unprepared’ to care for ageing population

Department of Health says cannot be assumed same number older people will be cared for in residential facilities as are now

Government policy is to support older people to live in their own homes for as long as possible, the  Nursing Homes Ireland annual conference has been told.   File Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Government policy is to support older people to live in their own homes for as long as possible, the Nursing Homes Ireland annual conference has been told. File Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Thu, Nov 7, 2013, 11:36

The Government has warned nursing home owners that extra residential places may not be provided to meet an ageing population and more older people may have to live at home for longer.

Speaking at the Nursing Homes Ireland annual conference this morning, the secretary general of the Department of Health Dr Ambrose McLoughlin said the Government was acutely aware of demographic projections that by 2041 there would be about 1.4 million people over the age of 65 in Ireland, with the greatest increase in the over 80 age group.

Addressing delegates from 400 private and public nursing homes, Dr McLoughlin said Government policy was to support older people to live in their own homes for as long as possible and to ensure only the most highly dependent people are in long term nursing care.

Responding to calls for funding for more nursing home beds, Dr McLoughlin said: “Planning for the future cannot simply be a calculation of future residential demand based on the assumption that the same proportion of our older population will be in residential care as is now the case.”

In his address, managing partner of consultancy group BDO, Derry Gray said the State was “seriously unprepared” to care for its aging population. He said some 4,200 extra nursing home beds would be required to meet to demand by 2016 however “a continued absence of a realistic national strategy” on the care of older people means they would not be available.

Some 53 new nursing homes will be required to meet demand, Mr Gray said. He claimed a lack of State strategy on residential care for older people was proving a barrier to their creation.

A need for hefty investment into existing public units to bring them into compliance with national standards meant it was unlikely the State could contribute to new bed capacity, Mr Gray said. He said in reality it would fall to the private sector to provide the extra capacity.

Chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, Tadhg Daly said the lack of beds for them was a crisis that could be avoided.

“This sector stands ready to invest up to €1 billion to create 1,000 long-term jobs a year for the next 10 years,” he said. “However, with a clear, co-ordinated strategy on long term care, there can be no business confidence in this scale of investment.”

Dr McLoughlin said he accepted the sector could not make investment decisions without knowing Government plans. He said based an ongoing HSE review of its residential facilities and a current review of the nursing home support scheme by Deloitte, his department was working closely with the HSE to develop an overall plan regarding the future public division of long stay residential care services.

“The plan will reflect both national and regional requirements and will have regard to the very severe financial constraints and restrictions on public sector staffing and recruitment and the ongoing need to meet service and safety standards all of which pose challenges for community nursing units across the country.”

Dr McLoughlin said his department was in talks with the Department of Public Expenditure and hoped to see a stimulus package for the sector approved by Government in the near future. He said he anticipated there would be a decision by early to mid-2014.

Dr McLoughlin also told the conference every nursing home should be tobacco free. “There is no argument for them to facilitate smoking or for their staff to smoke.”