Capitalism Does Not Care about the Elderly: Nursing Home Scandal

Revelations earlier this year about a cover up by the state in the nursing home sector shocked many and exposed yet again the callousness of the Irish capitalist state.

Thousands of elderly or vulnerable residents in nursing homes were illegally charged for their care. Care that they were already entitled to via their medical cards. While others were denied disability benefits while in care. Many more had to pay for private nursing home care due to the lack of public care homes.

Successive Taoisigh and health ministers, including the current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and other cabinet ministers, were aware of this for decades. In order to avoid paying compensation of an estimated €12 billion the state consciously made a decision to drag out any legal cases and only made the information available to the small number of people who could afford to go down the legal route.

Many working class families who could not afford a legal challenge and did not know their entitlements put themselves into debt and poverty as they struggled to pay for the necessary care for their loved ones.

The care system currently in place for the elderly and vulnerable in the South is failing. Under the present for profit system and with an aging population it can only get worse. Privatisation has gathered pace whether it is care of the elderly in their own home or in the care system.  Health Service Executive (HSE) care homes are few and far between. Home helps and care assistants have also been privatised. The sickeningly sweet advertisements aimed at the elderly never mention profit or business; you would almost believe these multi national organisations worked for the good of our society not profit. As with any business, the driving force is profit. The source of profit in private care homes is the low wages paid to care assistants and other staff. Most of these workers are paid minimum wage and take home almost half of what a care assistant in the HSE earns. Care assistants in the HSE are, of course, almost all members of a trade union. No wonder the for profit nursing care industry hates the trade union movement!

The weakness of the privately run for-profit system was exposed during the pandemic, care homes were unable to cope and had to be subsidized by the state. HSE nurses and care assistance had to be deployed as the private system came close to collapse.

As socialists our position is that all medical care including care of the elderly should be free, top quality and within the public system, delivered by qualified professionals who are paid the agreed trade union wage. This would include giving elderly people the right supports and care if they prefer to stay in their own home.

The nursing home charges scandal exposes, yet again, the brutal inability of capitalism to provide decent and humane care to the elderly. The private operators and investment funds must be kicked out of the nursing care system and replaced by a fully public service.