Tadhg Daly: Investment in Ireland’s nursing homes is vital to ensure dignity in old age for all

Friday June 14, 2024

The Government is not addressing the crisis in nursing-home care, and this is threatening the future of the long-loved Irish model of locally based nursing homes (Irish Independent).

I believe it is something we ought to be reflecting on as we begin the downhill to a general election, when families all over the country will be making their voices heard. While many issues have featured in the recent council and European election campaigns – from climate to migration and back again – the issue of nursing-home closures has been featuring too, especially for residents and families in local communities throughout Ireland.

The Irish model has always been local. But over 70 nursing homes have been forced to close their doors and more than 1,800 beds have been lost due to rising costs and inadequate funding.The Government has put its head in the sand on the issue and has not faced up to it. And the problem will only get larger.A direct result of such closures is already having an immediate impact on the policy of Sláintecare, with models of care that support people to stay healthy in their homes and communities for as long as possible and not in our acute healthcare system once the person’s acute care needs are met.

Last year, a HIQA report said Galway hospitals were unable to transfer patients out of care as there is a lack of local nursing-home beds.With a population that is ageing rapidly – and faster than anywhere else in Europe – Ireland faces a unique challenge in ensuring that its healthcare system and the nursing-home sector work. Not only has the long-term issue of the need for extra nursing-home care beds not been dealt with, neither has the short-term one of ­closures, with residents and communities losing their local homes.

The simple fact of the matter is that if the Government does not address the crisis in nursing-home care, more homes will close, more communities will not have a local service and fewer and fewer new homes will open, even if they are at a distance for families.

The current crisis will become a much bigger one in time as the number of older people requiring care increases with the ageing population. While the wild inflation of the past has been dealt with for many sectors, it has not been for nursing homes.The reality of the enormous increase in costs – 36pc over a five-year period, according to a PwC study – is not reflected in fees for resident care in private and voluntary nursing homes by the State to the sector, which provides 80pc of its care.

Celebrating growing old seems to be just rhetoric from the Government, as it is doing nothing to plan for it. And we risk that Ireland, which is a country in which nursing-home care is lauded by its residents and their families – as evidenced by the national resident experience survey report, with 90.3pc reporting a good/very good experience – must change entirely to survive.It is within this reality that Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI), which already campaigned in the local and European elections, will have to ramp up for the general election coming.

It appears the Government will have to be seriously challenged by families and local communities so a resident-focused, sustainable, resilient nursing-home care system can survive.

The Government has quickly forgotten what the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted in respect of the nursing-home system. Despite the challenges of that period, nursing-home staff across the country were heroic in their care and support of their residents.But if there isn’t a collaborative effort now by the Government, by policymakers, by healthcare providers, families and advocates, it will not be possible to meet the future needs of our ageing population with dignity, respect and quality care.

By the Government investing in our sector and prioritising resident-centred care, we can create a nursing-home system that truly serves the needs of our ageing population. In doing so, we not only create a system that can support our residents, but also supports the overall health and social system.Nursing-home care needs to be supported. It’s time to act and ensure that current and future generations of our ageing population receive the care and respect they deserve in local communities throughout Ireland.

Tadhg Daly is the chief executive officer of ­Nursing Homes Ireland.