A Belfast City Council (BCC) motion calling for Stormont’s Department of Health to investigate the practice of top-up fees being charged by care homes has been tabled.
Such fees vary across care homes and are charged on top of the cost of standard care.
A motion has been tabled by the SDLP’s Brian Heading and Donal Lyons for consideration at this evening’s meeting of BCC’s Standards and Business Committee.
If approved, the motion will either go to committee for debate or will be debated at a full meeting of the council.
The motion reads: “This council notes that residential care of older people is a statutory function of the Department of Health and delivered through a number of private care home companies. The council also notes that costs for standard care is paid from the budget of the Department of Health.
“Placement in a care home can be means tested and affecting savings and property owned by the resident. There are some cases where top-up fees are introduced and paid for by either the resident and/or family and introduces a second level of care base, which profits the residential care home company.
“Furthermore, these top fees vary from care home and company to company and is not always reflected in the level of care or the wages of staff employed in care homes. The care of our older people is important to society and, accordingly, this council calls upon the Department of Health to investigate the top-up costs charged by care homes.”
Depending on the case, those that need care — but outside a hospital — and have assets amounting to more than £14,000 will have to pay for part of the costs. If their assets total more than £23,000, they will have to pay all the costs.
Health Minister Robin Swann was asked this week, via a written Assembly question, what legislation or policy allows his department to regulate third-party top-up fees in nursing and residential care homes.
Mr Swann said: “HSC Trusts must contract for placements at the most competitive rate available which they consider suitable for meeting the individual’s assessed need, even where this is not obtainable at the regional rate. Where a Trust has contracted at that rate, there is no top-up.
“Should a service user select accommodation which is more expensive than other appropriate accommodation which the commissioning Trust can secure at a lower rate — for example, because they wish to have a better room in a particular home, or a more expensive care home — that Trust will facilitate that choice, but the additional cost must be met by a third party such as a family member or friend. This is known as a top-up.
“Whilst the aim should always be to facilitate choice for service users, Trusts have a parallel responsibility to secure the best value for money and protect the public funds for which they are accountable.”
Care home fees were in the headlines in September last year when former DUP MLA Jim Wells revealed he had to use his entire Stormont salary, along with some savings, to pay for his wife’s stay in a care home, while he had to live off her pension.
“I’m not asking for any sympathy or anything like that, because we are married 38 years and I have that duty of care to look after her,” the former health minister said at the time.
“I am fortunate I have a salary which is almost sufficient to cover the costs of the care, but that is a decision I’ve made.”