Farm concerns as damning report claims funding issues threaten access to Fair Deal
Thousands of farm families could face being unable to avail of reduced nursing home fees, after a damning new report claimed funding issues threaten new admissions to the Fair Deal scheme.
The report – by the country’s spending watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) – comes as farm families await legislation that would cap the amount they pay in nursing home fees, which can run up to €80,000 a year.
“The scheme is cash-limited, which means that the HSE must restrict access if there is an expectation that available funding will be exhausted,” said Comptroller Seamus McCarthy.
A review of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme (Fair Deal Scheme), published in 2015, committed to reviewing how productive assets – such as a farm or business – are treated under the scheme, which sees farm families having to contribute 7.5pc of the value of their farm annually towards nursing home fees.
Legislation that would cap how much farm families contribute to nursing home fees was approved in June 2019, but just last month the Department of Health said the progress of legislation that would reduce Fair Deal nursing home costs for farm families has been delayed by Covid-19.
At present, the capital value of an individual’s principal private residence is included in the financial assessment for only the first three years of their time in care. This is known as the three-year cap.
However, this cap does not apply to productive assets, such as farms or businesses, except in cases of sudden illness or disability where specific conditions are met.
The proposed policy change to the Nursing Homes Support Scheme would cap contributions based on farm and business assets at three years, where a family successor commits to working the productive asset.
Figures last year showed that 684 residents of nursing homes had farm assets supporting them and 246 of these residents were in care for at least three years.
President of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association Pat McCormack said the difficulties that farm families had experienced trying to access and use Fair Deal on any kind of equitable basis were “a matter of record”.
“From day one, farm families ran slap bang into the fact that while contributions towards the costs were capped at 22.5pc from family homes, they were completely open-ended for family farms. That meant that if a farmer was in Fair Deal for 13 years, the complete value of the family farm was eaten up by their contribution to the cost of elderly care. How was that fair?” Mr McCormack said.
“We’ve been pointing that out since the scheme was unveiled and, in fairness to the various ministers and governments, they did acknowledge that this disparity of treatment between family homes and family farms was unjust and unworkable.”
The C&AG report found it is €600 a week more expensive to care for a patient in a State-run facility than in a private home.
It said that between 2010 and 2018, the average weekly fee for a person in a public nursing homes was €1,564 – while that for a place in a private or voluntary home was €968.
The watchdog said it could not locate any criteria from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) under which prices charged by operators are assessed.
Minister of State of Older People Mary Butler said she had been advised by the NTPF that a pricing review had been completed. “I understand this was a comprehensive body of work and I expect my officials to brief me shortly on this matter and I will consider this report within that context. I am committed to ensuring that the costs of care are reviewed,” she said.
“It is important to acknowledge nursing homes have come into sharp focus these past months… It behoves us all to acknowledge the phenomenal work of healthcare workers and anyone involved in care giving across society,” she added.