Martin was 'late' for meeting discussing care deductions

 

The Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment has said he only attended part of a meeting where legal views were discussed in relation to the illegal charging of long-stay patients in State care institutions.

Documents released by the Department of Health today show Mr Martin, who was minister at the time, attended the meeting with officials and health board executives on December 16th last year.

Yesterday, Mr Martin said he only became aware of the issue last month. Speaking on RTÉ news this evening, Mr Martin said of the 2003 meeting: "I came in late, probably towards the end of the meeting. That issue had already apparently been discussed".

"I note from the minutes of that, which I saw last evening, that a decision was taken to refer the issue for legal advice," he added.

The Department of Health confirmed yesterday it received legal advice in March 2003 that there was a question mark over certain nursing home charges levied on more than 20,000 people.

Those affected were older people over 70 who were effectively given the right to free medical care in legislation granting them medical cards.

Minutes of the meeting, released today by the Minister for Health, Ms Harney, state that it was brought to the attention of those in attendance that the Ombudsman had challenged a health board's interpretation of how those over 70 should be charged for long-term care in health board institutions.

There were huge financial implications for the State in the event that the charges levied on over 70s by the health board were found to be illegal. The Government would have had to find estimated €100 m in additional funding for the health boards in this event.

It is believed the Government may face a bigger bill than the €40 million it has offered to repay medical card holders in residential care.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Health, Ms Harney, has sought to limit this liability by introducing legislation which will not only legalise future deductions for medical card holders in residential homes, but will also bar people from seeking rebates if they had not initiated legal action for repayment by 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

The Labour Party's deputy leader and health spokeswoman, Ms Liz McManus said the release of the documents was "very unusual" and "clearly designed to distance the Tánaiste from the shambles that Government dithering has again created and lay the blame squarely at the door of Minister Martin."

She added: "The belated claim made on behalf of the Minister, that he was not present when this particular item was discussed, is not relevant. The meeting was attended by two junior ministers.

"In addition it is standard practice in the case of bodies like a Departmental MAC/CEO for the minutes to be circulated to all members. Is the Minister also now claiming not to have received minutes? "

Fine Gael's spokesman on health, Dr Liam Twomey, said the released documents confirm Mr Martin "failed to make this a priority issue and failed to ensure that the AG's legal advice on the issue was obtained.

"As far as Minister Martin was concerned the matter was off his radar screen and would have remained buried in the bowels of Hawkins House had Deputy John Perry and Enda Kenny not persisted in raising the matter in the Dáil."