Agency to monitor nursing home care

 

Nursing homes are to be subject to inspections by an independent statutory agency as part of an initiative aimed at improving the monitoring of care standards in long-stay institutions for older people.

The Minister for Health, Ms Harney, is planning to extend the brief of the Social Services Inspectorate to include residential services for older people and people with disabilities.

About 26,000 older people are accommodated in nursing homes. However, there are no inspections of the State's 500 public nursing homes and there are insufficient staff to regularly inspect all private homes.

The new inspectorate, which is to be placed on a statutory foot- ing, would inspect both public and private nursing homes. However, no date has been set for this to begin. Any development is unlikely before a working group on care for older people has completed its deliberations.

The group is expected to make recommendations next year on the implementation of care standards in institutional settings and to examine issues connected with the regulation of private nursing homes, including the inspection process.

The move to introduce independent inspections was welcomed last night by the support group Age Action Ireland. However, it cautioned that it was vital to place the inspectorate on a statutory basis. "If you are a statutory inspectorate, then you are fully independent, you are not compromised by providing nursing home care yourself and you are impervious to political manipulation," said Mr Paul Murray, of Age Action Ireland. "Most nursing home care is of a good standard, but there are those which do not meet the proper standards and need to be subject to a rigorous inspection process."

The Irish Nursing Homes Organisation also welcomed the move and said it would help to bring the State's inspection re- gime into line with other European countries. "This is something we wholly support. We support minimum standards and tougher regulations. It is in our interests to have good people op- erating nursing homes," said its chief executive, Mr Pat Costello.

The inspection of nursing homes is covered by the Nursing Home Act (1990), which aimed to improve standards in nursing homes by establishing twice-yearly inspections of privately-run homes and enforcing care standards for the first time.

However, the 1993 regulations attached to this legislation on inspections and standards of care for private hospitals are often ambiguous, undefined and non-specific, according to many social workers and inspection officials.

A Human Rights Commission report earlier this year also called for legislation on basic quality of care in nursing homes, an improved complaints and appeals system and independent inspections. A study commissioned by the Government in 1998 estimated that between 12,000 and 20,000 people in the community could be suffering from abuse, neglect or maltreatment.

Despite such reports, just one nursing home has been de-registered or closed down by health authorities, according to professionals in the elderly care sector.