Irish Health Minister Defends Nursing Home Scheme

Minister for Health Mary Harney has defended the Government’s new scheme of funding for older people in long-term residential care, claiming it will take people out of the “unfair, stressful” situation they can currently find themselves in.

Ms Harney said the new system, whereby up to 15 per cent of the value of a person’s estate may be paid to the State after they die in order to cover the cost of long-term care, would be much fairer.

Speaking on RTE’s Today with Pat Kenny  programme, Ms Harney said there were about 21,000 older people currently in residential care, of whom about 8,000 are in public residential facilities.

She said these people pay “no more than 80 per cent of their non-contributory pension, no matter how rich or poor they are”.

Ms Harney said there were families paying €35,000 to €40,000 a year to pay for their parents in long-term care. There were parents who had remortgaged their homes and others who had taken equity releases in order to pay for care, she said.

The new system would take people out of the “unfair, stressful situation that we place older people in at the moment”, she said. “What I’m trying to do here is have something that’s fair.”

Ms Harney said she knew of someone who had realised assets of €12 million and was paying just 80 per cent of the non-contributory pension for care in a public nursing home. In the next bed, there could be someone with no assets paying the same amount.

“There will be no requirement now to mortgage the house, remortgage the house, sell the house or for your children or any of your relatives to pay. If the children wish to pay and not have their inheritance interfered with or any lien on the house for the future, they can make that choice of course. That’s an option,” the Minister said.

“What we’re simply saying to older people is this: you won’t have to sell your house, you won’t have to remortgage your house, you won’t have to take out an equity release where the banks are the big beneficiaries.”

A person who availed of long-term nursing care for more than three years would pay a contribution from their estate of five per cent for each of three years, with the amount capped at 15 per cent no matter how long the person was in care.

Where one person was in long-term care and had a spouse who owned half the house, the person’s liability would be assessed on the basis of half the value of the house, she said.

Ms Harney said the new system would be accompanied by an enhanced package of community supports and day care facilities for older people, so that they would be able to stay in their own homes, where possible.

These supports would include making it easier for people to get necessary appliances into their homes, including stair lifts and disabled bathrooms.

“If somebody needs care, they will be assessed. If they can stay at home and wish to stay at home, which the vast majority of older people want to stay at home, all the evidence suggests, international evidence, that older people lead a higher quality of life if they can stay at home and on average that they live two years longer. So older people never opt to go into care unless it’s essential.”

The Minister admitted, however, there were not currently enough people working in primary or community care. “We don’t have enough people working at the moment in primary or community care and that’s why we’re rolling out primary care teams, 100 of them this year around the country, another 100 next year and these teams in addition to nurses and doctors obviously.”

She said the number of day care places would also be extended. “The whole idea here is for more and support into the community, into the home. Obviously, the nursing home will be the place of last resort, where medically you can no longer stay at home.”