Cork is facing a significant challenge when it comes to nursing home beds if more operators exit the Fair Deal scheme due to the unsustainability of current rates of support from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), a leading nursing home provider in the region has warned.
CareChoice chief executive Stuart Murphy, who has already withdrawn the group’s Beaumont Residential Care home from the Fair Deal scheme, cautioned that the group’s five other homes in the Cork region may also be at risk as they are no longer sustainable at current rates of support from the NTPF.
“My focus at the moment is trying to find a resolution for Beaumont Residential Care where we have 56 residents availing of Fair Deal support but the current rate of support of €1,085 per resident per week at Beaumont is just not sustainable,” he said.
“The contract for Beaumont was up six months ago and the contracts for our other five nursing homes in Cork are up next year – I don’t want to be alarmist but if there isn’t an uplift in the Fair Deal rates, then it’s just not sustainable.
“Cork can’t afford to lose any more beds from the Fair Deal scheme but that’s what’s coming down the track unless the NTPF negotiates a sustainable Fair Deal rate for private nursing home operators in Cork because I believe we, and others, can’t continue operating on the current rates.”
Mr Murphy said the minimum that CareChoice would need to continue to operate Fair Deal at Beaumont Residential Care would be €1,270 per resident per week which, given there are 56 Fair Deal residents at the home, works out at an extra €580,000 per year in support.
“We made a loss of €6 million in our 14 nursing homes across the State last year and that is just not sustainable – the Fair Deal rate has to be increased because we are facing increased staffing costs, increased food bills and increased energy costs as well as higher interest payments,” he said.
Mr Murphy said he was surprised to learn of a statement by a spokesman for Tánaiste Micheál Martin who said in relation to the impasse at Beaumont Residential Care that negotiations between the NTPF and CareChoice had not yet been fully exhausted.
“I’m not sure how he can say that they are not yet exhausted when they really haven’t happened – we had one half-hour meeting with the NTPF contracts manager eight weeks ago when we asked for some pathway to resolve this, and nothing was offered.
“I have emailed the NTPF and various Ministers asking them to intervene with the NTPF, but there’s no negotiations, there’s no haggling with the NTPF – you are given a price and you either take it or you don’t – they are not interested in seeing your figures on what you need to be sustainable.”
However, a spokeswoman for the NTPF rejected the claim that it was not open to negotiation. “As part of our normal processes the NTPF is always available to continue negotiations with individual nursing homes. We keep open lines of communication and regularly communicate with all those nursing homes we negotiate with.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Health, in response to comments by relatives of residents of Beaumont urging the Government to intervene, said Minister of State with responsibility for older people Mary Butler and the Government were conscious of the financial challenges faced in the sector.
The department said the Government provided €1.4 billion to support more than 22,700 people under the Fair Deal scheme last year and that this would increase to nearly €1.5 billion this year.
“Minister Butler is cognisant that the budget must support all residents under the Nursing Home Support Scheme [Fair Deal] for the full calendar year. Budget 2023 saw over €40 million in additional funding for the NHSS which will provide for an uplift in the maximum prices chargeable by private and voluntary nursing homes as negotiated,” it said in a statement.
“It is important that nursing homes manage potential cost pressures in line with their regulatory and contractual responsibilities, maintaining their quality of care so that residents’ lived experience and comfort is not affected.”
The department said the Government was particularly conscious of the financial challenges faced by smaller and voluntary nursing homes that may not have access to the same economies of scale as larger homes or groups.
It pointed out that the Government had provided more than €149 million of financial support to private and voluntary nursing homes through the Covid-19 Temporary Assistance Payment Scheme (TAPS) while they also received free PPE and oxygen worth about €75 million to date.