Repayments of illegal nursing home charge to cost €486m
About half 70,000 thought eligible applied for refund of fee paid between 1976 and 2004
HSE director general Tony O’Brien said a timeframe for closing the repayment scheme had yet to be agreed. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
The final cost of the repayment scheme for people illegally charged for nursing home care dating back to the 1970s will be about €486 million, the Dáil public accounts committee has been told.
This is half the cost forecast when the Health Repayment Scheme was set up in 2006.
About 70,000 people were considered eligible to apply for reimbursement of charges they were forced to pay between 1976 and 2004, but in the end only 35,000 applications were received.
The charges were halted in 2004 after the Attorney General warned that it was illegal to charge medical-card holders for a place in a public nursing home.
The HSE says patients may not have applied for the scheme because of “taxation and Revenue Commissioners issues”, satisfaction with the care they received or the absence of a next of kin.
Almost 22,000 of the applicants received an offer but 13,500 were rejected. Many of these were in a private nursing home.
Though the deadline for applications was in 2007, the scheme allowed for further payments to be made. HSE director general Tony O’Brien said a timeframe for closing the scheme had yet to be agreed.
The scheme provided for the creation of a donations fund to pay for improvements in public health services for older people and those with disabilities. However, just 212 donations have been made to date, with a total value of €348,000.
Meanwhile, the rising cost of the proposed national children’s hospital at St James’s is to be examined by the public accounts committee and by the Oireachtas health committee.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was “absolutely shocking” the hospital was likely to be the most expensive children’s hospital ever built. The committee had an obligation to thoroughly examine the cost of the project, which is expected to cost about €1 billion.
The committee is also to raise with the HSE the non-payment of salaries to some staff at the former suicide charity Console, after it went into liquidation.
Public accounts committee chairman Seán Fleming said the HSE’s position was technically correct as it was not strictly liable for unpaid salaries but “it isn’t good enough”.
Ms McDonald said the staff had been brushed off and this was doubly unacceptable as the situation arose partly because of the HSE’s failure to properly monitor the charity, which closed following a financial scandal.