The Department of Health has rejected claims that its approach to future care of older people is short-term.

It said a review of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme will be published in the coming months.

The department said provision for community and home-based services are being strengthened to allow more people stay in their own homes for as long as it is viable for them to do so.

In response to the call today by Nursing Homes Ireland for a forum to set future direction in this area, the department said that joint decision-making in areas that might include pricing and regulatory matters would not be appropriate, given providers have a clear vested and commercial interest in decisions.

However, Minister for Health James Reilly has indicated that he is happy for his officials to meet representatives of the sector to discuss structured consultation.

Nursing Homes Ireland, which represents private nursing homes, was commenting on a report it commissioned on the residential care sector, carried out by BDO, which was published today.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, NHI Chief Executive Tadhg Daly rejected suggestions that the report was critical of a policy that tried to keep people in their own homes.

Mr Daly said nursing home care was part of a "continuum of care", which also included day and home care, as well as independent living, and that Ireland needed the full range of services.

He said in the next seven years the population of those aged over 85 would be growing by 46%.

Mr Daly said a stakeholder group needed to be set up, led by the Department of Health, to plan how to meet the needs of an ageing population.

He said the Government should look at a stimulus programme for the sector, including the possibility of a lower VAT rate on new nursing homes and refurbishment of existing ones.

Mr Daly said if a high level of service and standard, underpinned by independent regulation, could be provided then it was much more cost-effective to have it provided in the private and voluntary sector.

He said: "Absolutely, we have a vested interest, but we're also saying that all of the other stakeholders should be around that table.

"We don't have a monopoly on wisdom, but we hope that today's report will be a significant catalyst to begin that debate about how we are going to care for you and I, and indeed others, in the population in the years to come."

Demand for beds exceeding supply

The report says that demand for nursing home beds is now exceeding supply in some parts of the country and claims that provision of residential care is heading for a crisis.

It says that relative to many of its European counterparts, Ireland has one of the lowest numbers of long-term beds for every 1,000 of the population.

Nursing home beds in the voluntary and public sector are also reducing.

The report predicts that there will be a shortfall of around 8,000 nursing home beds by 2021, which is the equivalent of 100 new nursing homes.

The report says that gaps in provision exist in key urban centres.

It says the situation is urgent because the typical nursing home development timeline from new project concept to opening is a minimum of three years.

It says that the State, as a monopolistic buyer of services in the sector, needs to provide clarity as regards long-term funding and financing.

The net weekly cost to the State of private nursing home care, excluding the resident's contribution, is averaged at €750, compared with €6,000 in an acute hospital.

The report puts the Fair Deal scheme funding at €974m a year.

It says that diverting money from the Fair Deal scheme, to support home care packages and other community facilities, will increase delays in securing long-term residential care for those who need it most.

It suggests that the HSE will need €834m to get the current stock of public beds compliant with HIQA standards.

Ageing population 'a modern miracle' - Age Action

Age Action Ireland has said it is concerned that the ageing population is being turned into a crisis, when it is in fact "a modern miracle".

Chief Executive Robin Webster said there was tension between the public, private and voluntary sectors in the care of the elderly.

He expressed concern about competition between community care, home care and residential care, rather than it being seen as one continuum of care.

Mr Webster said older people and their carers have difficulty in making choices about the best type of care, ideal location and cost.