Adjournment Debate. - Cork Nursing Home.

It is with regret that I raise again the issue of the care of patients in the Woburn House nursing home in Cork and the operation of the nursing home under the Health (Nursing Homes) Act. An independent inquiry was carried out into this nursing home and it found there was inadequate patient care, inadequate insurance, an absence of registered nurses and overcrowding.

Subsequent to the inquiry, a nurse manager was appointed and the inadequacies outlined in the report of the inquiry were said to have been put right. The health board management indicated its satisfaction with the arrangement. We were informed that if there was another breach of the regulations severe action would be taken.

On 7 June the nurse manager was dismissed and wrote a letter alleging serious breaches of the Health (Nursing Homes) Act. Had the nurse manager not been sacked I am not certain whether he would have written the letter. The allegations dealt with the adequacy of patient care, the prescribing of drugs by an unregistered nurse and medical treatment Protocols being carried out by an unqualified person — all of which issues arose in the findings of the independent inquiry. There were also allegations of the re-use of nappies, another issue in the findings of the previous inquiry. The possibility of overcrowding was also mentioned. By and large, the allegations are a restatement of the previous ones made about this home.

The Southern Health Board proposed, with the agreement of the owner, the appointment of a member of staff of the health board while an internal inquiry proceeded. However, the issue has gone further. I am anxious that natural justice would be seen to be done and I am conscious I have received only one side of the story. The letter written by the individual concerned was sent to the chief executive officer of the health board duly signed. Therefore, I felt it appropriate to bring this to this Minister's attention.

I ask the Minister, in association with the chief executive of the health board, to appoint the members of the previous inquiry team who are familiar with the nursing home to investigate these serious allegations. They did a superb job on the previous occasion. Therefore, in conjunction with the chief executive officer of the health board, will the Minister consider reappointing that ready-made team?

(Limerick East): I was pleased to launch the code of practice for nursing homes last year. The Years Ahead — A Policy for the Elderly recommended that the Department, in consultation with the health boards and representatives of nursing home proprietors, should draw up a code of practice for nursing homes. Work on the code took place in parallel with the preparation of the regulations to implement the Health (Nursing Homes) Act, 1990.

The purpose of the code is to give nursing home proprietors and staff, officers of the health boards and the general public a better understanding of what is involved in providing high quality care to residents of nursing homes. The code attempts to define what is currently considered to be good quality nursing home care. It builds on the best practice in nursing homes at present. I am satisfied most nursing home proprietors are attempting to implement the recommendations of the code to the best of their abilities.

At 31 March 1996 a total of 354 private and voluntary nursing homes had been registered by the health boards. Of these, a small percentage were found to be in breach of the Health (Nursing Homes) Act, 1990 and the Nursing Homes Regulations, 1993. I can assure the Deputy that the health boards view any breach of the Act and regulations in a serious light and all complaints are investigated without delay. The health boards inform me that where breaches have been identified the nursing home owners concerned have, in general, co-operated fully in meeting the standards laid down by the Act and regulations. This is borne out by the Southern Health Board's detailed investigation into Woburn House nursing home.

The inspection and registration of nursing homes are essentially functions of the health boards. I received the Southern Health Board's report on Woburn House nursing home in February last. As the Deputy will be aware the inquiry team found that in the operation and management of Woburn House nursing home, there were some serious breaches of the Nursing Homes (Care and Welfare) Regulations, 1993. Arising from the inquiry, the chief executive officer of the board directed that revised administrative procedures be implemented, particularly in relation to complaints and the functions of the board's nursing homes inspection teams. The board has since appointed a designated officer to act as nursing homes complaints officer.

It has been brought to my attention that further allegations have been made in the last few days regarding the operation of Woburn House nursing home. The Southern Health Board inform me that it immediately referred these allegations to the nursing homes complaints officer for investigation under the new procedures. Pending the outcome of this investigation, and in view of the allegations made against the home and the previous inquiry, the board proposes, under section 9 of the Health (Nursing Homes) Act, 1990, to assign one of its employees to take charge and manage the home on behalf of the board for a period of one month. This has been agreed by the home.

With the appointment of the board's representative as temporary manager of the home, the investigation of the allegations by the complaints officer under the new procedures and visiting of the home by the inspection team, the board is satisfied the matter will be addressed. I can assure the Deputy that officials of my Department will remain in close contact with the board to ensure a speedy resolution to this matter.