No funds left for nursing home care scheme

 

THE FUNDING allocated for the running of the Fair Deal nursing home support scheme this year has run out already, it emerged yesterday.

At the end of April more than 22,000 older people were receiving financial support under the scheme and the money available for 2011 does not allow for any net increase in this figure.

This means no new applicants will be able to enter the scheme this year unless existing applicants die. This could significantly increase the number of acute hospital beds which will be blocked to new admissions, leading to longer trolley waits in emergency departments. At the end of February, 671 beds were occupied by delayeddischarge patients.

News of the suspension of the approval of new applicants for funding under the scheme was relayed to hospitals in recent days by the HSE. Noel Mulvihill, the HSE’s assistant national director of services for older people, advised in a letter that “until we have a clear position on future funding” no new applications for the scheme should be processed.

However, the HSE said last night applications would continue to be processed but they would be granted only if money becomes available to fund them.

The news is a major headache for Minister for Health James Reilly, whose predecessor Mary Harney introduced Fair Deal in October 2009. His spokesman said he became aware in recent days there was an issue over funding the scheme and held a number of meetings on it. He told the HSE to continue to accept applications for the scheme and had instructed officials to prepare proposals on how future applications to Fair Deal would be dealt with.

Dr Reilly’s spokesman said: “At this stage it seems that the funding difficulty may be due to a combination of a significantly greater than anticipated increase in net demand, increases in the cost of care and a number of other factors.”

The scheme, which replaced nursing home subventions, is designed to help pay for the care required by individuals entering public and private nursing homes.

It is budget-capped each year and provides for applicants to defer the cost of their care until after their death if they wish by putting a lien on the value of their home at a rate of 5 per cent per year for a maximum of three years. This could now be increased to raise revenue.

The HSE, in a statement, said it was working with the Department of Health to explore options to meet the increased demand within the resources available. It also said the cost of private nursing homes has increased by about 4 per cent this year.

It is unclear how the cost of funding the scheme could have been so grossly underestimated. One source said part of the problem was older people funded under the scheme were on average living longer than anticipated.

Age Action called on the Government to address the problem urgently. “This is a nightmare situation,” its spokesman Eamon Timmins said. Older people could now be forced to pay the full cost of care or take their place “on a waiting list until somebody currently occupying a nursing home bed under the scheme vacates that bed or dies”.