Waiting list for nursing homes set to double

Documents show Department of Health ignored legal advice to clear emergency beds

More than 2,000 patients will be waiting for a nursing home place by the end of the year, over double the current number, internal Department of Health documents reveal.

The waiting time for allocation to a nursing home place under the Fair Deal scheme is set to rise to 17 weeks, senior officials warn in the documents obtained under freedom of information legislation. At present, about 770 patients are on the placement list and the average wait is six weeks.

The documents show that the department changed the rules of the scheme for a time earlier this year in spite of legal advice that it would be unconstitutional to do so.

The change from a “first-come-first-served” system, taken to ease pressure on overcrowded hospital emergency departments, was made against the advice of senior officials who argued that it was “arbitrary and discriminatory”.


Minister for Health James Reilly and his Labour Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, differed on the plan to use the scheme to transfer older patients occupying beds in Dublin hospitals to nursing homes.

Dr Reilly supported the suspension of the “first-come-first-served” rule but Ms Lynch said it was wrong and illegal.The decision caused hardship for some families who had moved relatives to private nursing homes in expectation of early approval under Fair Deal. One 93-year-old woman living at home fell after she was skipped in the queue and was only found after a few hours, according to officials.

The normal chronological placement of patients in nursing homes under Fair Deal was suspended in April because of a crisis in hospital emergency departments as a result of a prolonged flu season. The department and HSE are looking at using a modified version of the plan in the event of a future crisis in the health system, despite the concerns expressed.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

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