Call to end budget cap on Fair Deal care home scheme

Minister calls for action as overcrowding in hospitals pushes trolley crisis above 540

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has called for the removal of the budget cap on the Fair Deal nursing home scheme as a way of tackling the overcrowding crisis in hospitals.

Mr Varadkar also wants the public to make more use of minor injuries units rather than going straight to a hospital emergency department.

The number of people waiting in emergency departments and wards for admission to hospital rose to 543 yesterday, the fifth highest figure since records started a decade ago.

Responding to the persistently high trolley figures, the Minister attributed the problem to a big increase in the number of older people requiring admission and the enforced closure of beds in some hospitals because of a flu outbreak.

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He said a number of further measures would be implemented in the coming weeks, include the opening of 175 community beds. Overcrowding in emergency departments could be reduced if people made more use of minor-injuries units, which were currently underused.

Waiting list

Mr Varadkar said he would like to see the Fair Deal scheme made “budget led”, meaning the existing cap on spending would be removed to help clear the waiting list. Because nursing home places were effectively rationed, the waiting list for Fair Deal was far too high and this was one factor contributing to overcrowding in hospitals. “Older people are being trapped in hospitals because we can’t fund nursing home care for them.”

However, he warned more money would also have to be made available for home care packages, otherwise the “perverse situation” could result where it was easier to get into a nursing home than to go home from hospital.

Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, where 50 patients were awaiting admission, has the worst overcrowding at present. The Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation has called on the HSE to take the hospital off-call for emergency ambulances because of the number of patients on trolleys.

Industrial relations officer Tony Fitzpatrick said to comply with the LRC agreement of last week there should be 16 nurses on duty to care for emergency department and admitted patients, but there were just nine.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.