State settles 30 long-stay nursing home cases

Department of Health says it disagrees with view of Ombudsman on its liability

Department of Health secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin: “In the current economic climate, if we were to open the floodgates the consequences for the basic operation of our health service could be serious.”

Department of Health secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin: “In the current economic climate, if we were to open the floodgates the consequences for the basic operation of our health service could be serious.”

 

The Department of Health has settled more than 30 cases taken by former residents of private nursing homes who were illegally charged for long-stay charges, while denying liability under health legislation.

Most of the cases, which were settled at a total cost of €1.2 million, were taken by the estates of the former residents, secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin has confirmed.

The department is facing a total of 240 cases on the issue. Dr McLoughlin has declined to provide further details of individual cases, citing a duty of care to the taxpayer when fighting cases in an adversarial system.

‘Expectations differ’
“We are dealing with different cases and expectations differ on the part of the various litigants. We have to consider each case on its merits to decide on the best defence,” he told a recent meeting of the Oireachtas Public Oversight committee. “In the current economic climate, if we were to open the floodgates the consequences for the basic operation of our health service could be serious.”

“Whenever we are faced with legal challenges that have financial consequences, we are required to exercise a duty of care in respect of the State. We do that through the Attorney General’s office.”

Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who has received more than 1,000 complaints on the issue, has criticised the department’s stance in relation to older people who were unable to get long-term nursing home care from the State. Late last year, she accused it of having a “long history of disregard for the law” and a “culture of prevarication”, and said it was engaging in a careful strategy of risk management in relation to the cases.

Adequate resources
Dr McLoughlin responded last week by saying his department didn’t agree with the ombudsman’s contention that the State was obliged to provide long-stay care without limit. The Government wasn’t aware of any country in the world where the realities of resource limitation did not apply. Although people were entitled to important services, this was subject to adequate resources being available.

Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe said there was a “profound difference of interpretation” between the department and the ombudsman and suggested the relationship was “broken”. She asked whether Ms O’Reilly should just “fold her tent” given these differences.