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IHCA warns that Fair Deal shortfall will lengthen hospital waiting lists

By Susan Mitchell

The dearth of funding for the Fair Deal scheme will lead to a lengthening of hospital waiting lists, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has warned.

Martin Varley, secretary general of the IHCA, said funding gaps would lead to an increase in the number of delayed discharges in hospitals.

That will have ‘‘a direct knock-on effect on waiting lists’’ that are already climbing, Varley said.

The IHCA’s warning came after serious funding deficits in the scheme emerged last week.

Health minister Dr James Reilly stated that €100 million that was assigned to the scheme and was used to fund care elsewhere would be redirected to the nursing home support scheme. However, charities expressed serious concerns about the long-term sustainability of the demand-led scheme.

‘‘It is clear that there is a long-term funding crisis,” said Seán Moynihan, chief executive of Alone, the organisation which supports older people in need.

‘‘It costs about €50,000 a year for a nursing home place, so €100 million will only go so far,’’ Moynihan said.

He questioned how the Department of Health had got its ‘‘sums so very wrong’’.

It was reported last week that the Fair Deal scheme, which replaced nursing home subventions in October 2009, would not be in a position to cover new admissions as a result of the level of demand.

Last Friday, the health minister claimed that some €100 million assigned to funding the Fair Deal scheme was used by the HSE for other purposes. He made his comments after a meeting between him, Department of Health officials and the HSE that was arranged to examine why a funding crisis had emerged.

The HSE appeared to distance itself from Reilly’s statement, however. It said the total budget available to the HSE for long-term residential care ‘‘has always and will continue to be used exclusively for the care of older people resident in nursing homes’’.

Strict rules govern the allocation of funding to different subheads within the HSE and the HSE said absolutely no money was diverted away from the B12 subhead, which is used to fund the scheme and the care of elderly people.

They also questioned where the minister would find €100 million.

Reilly has instigated a review of the Fair Deal scheme. Moynihan said a radical rethink was necessary and that a shift towards providing community care at home was badly needed. The minister has also said he wanted to see greater use of home care packages as an alternative to placement in a nursing home.

Delayed discharges refer to patients who have completed the acute phase of their care and are medically fit for discharge.

According to HSE figures, there were 607 delayed discharges in hospitals nationwide in early May. Most relate to patients aged over 65. The figure has dropped significantly since 2009 due to the impact of the scheme.
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