10/11/2010

HSE 'Failed Nursing Home Report'

The Health service Executive (HSE) and the Department of Health have been accused of failing to cooperate with a report into the state of Ireland's nursing homes for the elderly.

The damning report from the Office of Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly, published yesterday, slammed the Department and Executive for their failure to provide information for the report and their refusal to cooperate.

Both the HSE and the Department of Health claimed that it was not within the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman to conduct the investigation, that the Ombudsman is acting outside her powers and that her actions constitute "an interference" in the State’s defence of several hundred legal actions.

However, the Ombudsman said it was satisfied as to her jurisdiction. In making the report to the Dáil and Seanad, the Office said the HSE and the Department were in breach of the statutory requirements of the Ombudsman Act 1980.

The report revealed there had been more than 1,000 complaints issued against Ireland's nursing homes since 1985, with many families experiencing problems and frustrations when attempting to source nursing home care.

The report said: "For decades the health boards (HSE) have been failing to meet their obligation to provide [nursing home] care. Arising from this failure, several hundred legal actions against the HSE have been initiated.

"[The State] failed over many years to provide people with their legal entitlement to nursing home care."

The Ombudsman said there are 23,000 older people (5% of the over 65 age group) in nursing homes and that of these, 7,500 are in HSE homes and 15,500 are in private nursing homes.

According to the report, the number of private places has vastly increased because of a refusal by the HSE to pay for the care of many elderly people , despite being legally required to do so. This has led to a number of elderly people incurring huge care related costs.

Responding to the report today, Labour Senator Phil Prendergast said the report is "nothing short of damning", while the Ombudsman's conclusion that the Dept of Health and HSE have shown a disregard for the law, further damaged the credibility of the Minister for Health and the Government.

"The report shows some 300 legal cases in respect of nursing home care are pending and that a number have been settle out of court, which means that the Minister for Health has for whatever reason prevented legal clarity arising from a court judgment.

"One can only hope that Ms O'Reilly's report will finally bring this complex and convoluted issue to a head but what is beyond dispute is that the welfare of older people has been callously disregarded as a result of inaction."

(DW/BMcC)

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