Nursing Homes Ireland has expressed grave concern over Government plans to allow public nursing homes another six years to meet physical standards.

The Health Information and Quality Authority is to be instructed by the Department of Health to extend to 2021 the compliance date for public and voluntary homes to meet HIQA's standard.

NHI, which represents private homes, says it does not apply to private homes.

NHI Chief Executive Tadhg Daly said the care of residents in Health Service Executive units would be compromised for political purposes.

It is also considering legal action over the move, which it says sets a double standard between private and public homes and amounts to State aid.

2021 marks the end date of the State's €300m capital investment plan for public homes.

NHI says that since the announcement by Minister of State Kathleen Lynch last week, there has been ongoing contact between the organisation and the Department of Health.

The organisation says the move amounts to political interference with HIQA,  the independent regulator of healthcare.

Minister Lynch has said that the shortage of public capital funds due to the economic crisis has meant a number of public or voluntary homes have not met the National Quality Standards for Residential Care for Older People in Ireland with the previous time frame of July 2015.

In the next few weeks, the HSE will submit to HIQA its plans to meet the requirements in line with the revised policy time frame.

Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation General Secretary Liam Doran today said: "The Government’s decision to invest in our public long-term care facilities is both welcome and long overdue. 

“It is acknowledged that this plan requires HIQA to extend the time frame, for adherence to infrastructural standards, but this is both logical and necessary in view of the current situation.

“The alternative, arising from a strict adherence to existing time frames, would be the closure of long-term beds leading to further increases in overcrowding in emergency departments, increased numbers of delayed discharges and, overall, a further contraction of our health service.

"It is unfortunate that Nursing Homes Ireland are considering legal action arising from this very welcome initiative,” Mr Doran said. 

“The investment, and strategic approach, is long overdue, is a common sense approach to the existing situation and, foremost of all, it seeks to improve the living environment for people in these public long-stay facilities.

“This should be welcomed by all.  We would now ask the Government to proceed with its capital refurbishment programme in the shortest possible time frame," he added.

Elsewhere, chief executive of ALONE Sean Moynihan has said that currently only 10% of public nursing homes meet the standards and the Government had largely ignored the warnings and failed to adequately invest in these homes.

He said that the provision of quality health care for older people should not be optional, adding that it was a right and a necessity.

Mr Moynihan said: "Our public nursing homes are a cornerstone of our health system. There is a danger that we are moving to a more and more privatised system. We cannot be wholly reliant on the private sector for the care of our most vulnerable people." 

"Enda Kenny previously stated that he wanted to make Ireland a great country to grow old in, so far he has failed to invest in this notion.

"We need to plan for the future and invest in alternatives. Of late, we have been hearing from vulnerable older persons that it is virtually impossible to get home help at the moment.

"This is not good enough, home-help hours are vital to keep people active in their communities for a fraction of the cost of nursing-home care. Investment in primary health care is desperately needed to stop the current problem from running out of control," Mr Moynihan added.