The number of people waiting for a nursing home place under the State's Fair Deal scheme has jumped by a sixth in just three weeks, according to figures released by the Health Service Executive (HSE).
Fair Deal is the name given to the Nursing Home Support Scheme which finances long-term care for most older people. It costs the State just over €1 billion each year.
The number of elderly waiting for a Fair Deal nursing home place jumped from 729 to 846 in the three weeks from June 7th, though the waiting lists vary significantly around the State.
The longest waiting lists by a large margin is in Dublin, with 195 people in the queue. The shortest waiting list is in Co Roscommon where the figure is just 10, according to figures released to Fianna Fáil's Stephen Donnelly.
Under the scheme people generally contribute 80 per cent of their income towards the cost of their care, and 7.5 per cent of the value of any assets every year. The average waiting time for a place on the scheme so far this year is four weeks.
The 7.5 per cent annual contribution from the asset value of the family home is charged only for three years. However, the three-year cap does not apply to farms.The first €36,000 worth of assets per person are excluded.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted earlier this year that the funding for the scheme had not run out after it emerged funding was approved for an elderly person but the money had not been provided six weeks later.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the Nursing Homes Support Scheme (NHSS) is expected to support an average of 23,042 people throughout 2019.
“The NHSS budget for 2019 is €985.8 million, which is an increase of €24.3 million over its 2018 budget. Over the last two years an additional €45 million has been provided to NHSS budget for the continued provision of services in line with pricing and demand.
“The HSE has noted that the number of residents in nursing homes supported by the NHSS is ahead of forecast for the year to date. The latest available performance reports indicate that there are 23,252 people supported in the scheme at the end of May this year.”
Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on older people Mary Butler said she was "very alarmed" at the surge in numbers.
“A 16 per cent increase in the Fair Deal waiting list over three weeks in June is extraordinary to say the least. The last thing we need is a repeat of what happened in 2014 when the numbers waiting for a nursing home placement went from 654 in February of that year to 2,114 by the following October.
“If the rate of increase we have seen over three June weeks continues, well over 1,000 people will be waiting by September.”
Ms Butler said: “On top of this, the waiting list for home help has gone from 6,310 in April to 6,819 at the end of May.
“All of this points to a real crisis in health service provision for older people as new applications for home support are put on hold.
“I am also concerned that the number of home help hours is way behind schedule. 7,157,942 home support hours were provided to the end of May, a monthly average of 1,431,588 hours.
“On a 12-month basis this would mean 17,179,060 hours should be provided this year – over 700,000 short of what Fine Gael promised this year.
"Minister for Older People Jim Daly needs to get on top of this. The crisis in older people's services, whether in the home or in residential care, needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency."