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Nursing Home

Release of documents on illegal nursing home charges to be discussed by government

A Dáil debate on the nursing home refunds controversy has been delayed by week.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 30th 2023, 5:56 PM

THE GOVERNMENT IS set to hold discussions on the public release of documents related to an alleged “secret strategy” that aimed to limit refunds from the State to individuals who were incorrectly charged for public nursing home care.

However, a Dáil debate on nursing home charges controversy is delayed by one week despite calls from some TDs for time to set aside to discuss the matter in the coming days.

In response to a question from The Journal, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien confirmed that the release of documents related to the supposed secret strategy “will be a matter that will be discussed with government colleagues”.

He added that these discussions will inform the “appropriate steps that need to be taken”.

However, Minister O’Brien said that he has not yet seen the “detail” of the documents.

It follows a report in yesterday’s Irish Mail on Sunday about a failure to provide payouts to families of people who were illegally charged for nursing home stays from the 1970s until late 2000s.

The report is based on a protected disclosure by Department of Health whistleblower Shane Corr.

It alleges that since 2011, multiple governments have sought to hide the State’s liability for the charges to prevent a possible €12 billion in payouts to those affected.

The strategy was said to be contained in a secret memo that was dated 13 July, 2011.

The Regional Independent TDs group called on the Oireachtas Business Committee to convene today to find time in the Dáil schedule this week to discuss the controversy.

The committee met this afternoon where it is understood that the Government Chief Whip Hildegarde Naughton said that it was too short notice.

Committee members are understood to have reluctantly accepted the matter will be discussed in the Dáil the week after next.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Tánaiste Micheál Martin confirmed that the Government has asked the Attorney General to look at the issue.

The spokesperson added that Martin “would not have been aware of any legal strategy or memo on nursing home charges”.

A Labour spokesperson for former party leader and former Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said:

“Deputy Howlin was not involved in any decision in relation to a legal strategy on nursing home charges.”

“Deputy Howlin has supported calls for all documents referenced in the article to be made available without delay to the Public Accounts Committee for full scrutiny.”

The Irish Daily Mail article also made reference to the Office of the Controller and Auditor General (C&AG) claiming that the Government ensured the cost of any settlements – and the size of the potential liability it faced – was not be publicly reported by the spending watchdog.

A statement provided to The Journal from the Office of the C&AG, said:

“The article has quoted from a document which we have not seen and therefore we are not aware of the context of the selected quote. It is important to note that the C&AG is independent of government in the exercise of his functions.”

Elsewhere, Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson David Cullinane yesterday called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to issue statements on their knowledge of the strategy.

Deputy Cullinane also called on the government to “release all relevant documents and memos to provide full transparency”. 

He added that these were “very serious allegations” and described it as a “secret plan to block refunds of illegal nursing home charges”.

Cullinane has also written to the Oireachtas Health Committee requesting copies of all memos and documents referenced in the report.

‘Complex’

Speaking to the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he has spent the weekend “trying to get the facts” about the issue.

Varadkar said that he didn’t receive the 2011 memo, and neither did anyone who is in the current government.

He also claimed that the “true picture is going to be a lot more complex and different from how it was presented in the article”.

Varadkar added that the figures used in the article “are not in any way still valid” and appear to relate to “nursing home charges prior to the Fair Deal”.

The Fair Deal Scheme is a financial support scheme for people who enter into long-term nursing home care.

It was designed to help older people pay the costs of nursing home care regardless of their financial situation and takes into account income and assets.

Until the mid-2000s, medical card holders were entitled to free nursing home care from the State.

Then-Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly published a report on the issue called ‘Who Cares?’ in 2010, which says the Department of Health “persisted with an illegal charging regime because of, amongst other things, the need to maintain an important source of funding”.

The report also accused State agencies of showing a lack of transparency and accountability about the matter.

The Taoiseach told Newstalk that his “initial understanding” is that the issue relates to people “who pay for private nursing homes”.

Varadkar added: “They argue that because they had a medical card, they were entitled to a full refund of the cost, regardless of the cost or regardless of which nursing home they chose; the state has never conceded that.”

The Irish Mail on Sunday article also alleged that “compensation was denied to anyone who did not have the resources to fight legal cases” and that the remainder of the cases “were all quietly settled by the State”.

Speaking today on Newstalk, Varadkar said: “There have been some cases that have been settled and it will be the case from time to time that government departments will settle some cases.

“But they’re not all settled and there was never a test case that went to trial.

“It needs to be looked into properly, but I think it’s fair to say that the way it was presented on Sunday, the real picture is a lot more complex than that and certainly what I can say is I was never party to devising or agreeing a legal strategy in relation to nursing home charges.”

Fine Gael were asked for comment on behalf of Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan. Minister Simon Harris was also asked for comment. 

-With additional reporting from Tadgh McNally and Christina Finn

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