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Nursing Homes.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 21 June 2005

Tuesday, 21 June 2005

Questions (33)

John Gormley

Question:

55 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will respond to criticisms from nursing home operators that her Department has delayed more than four months in responding to a request for service level agreements for contract beds and that no staff level rules exist for nursing homes even following such high profile cases as Rostrevor and Leas Cross; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20980/05]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Minister for Health)

The issue of a service level agreement for the supply of contract beds was raised by representatives of the Irish Nursing Homes Organisation, INHO, at a meeting with me in February 2005. The Department pursued this issue with the HSE and was informed that the INHO had been in discussion with the former Eastern Regional Health Authority for some time on the development of service level agreements in the eastern region. The HSE has confirmed a response has issued to the INHO enclosing a draft service level agreement and addressing the issues raised in this connection by the organisation. The INHO has acknowledged receipt of this response and has undertaken to revert to the HSE on the matter.

The staff levels for nursing homes are set out in the Nursing Homes Regulations 1993. However, having regard to the level of public concern about the registration and inspection of the nursing home sector, it is imperative immediate action is taken to ensure current systems and processes are as robust as they can be within the context of the current regulations. Responsibility for the inspection and registration of the nursing home sector was assigned to the HSE national care group manager, older people's services, from 15 June 2005. Steps are being taken to evaluate current processes and to agree and oversee the implementation of a national standardised inspection process. A progress report on this review will be available by 5 September 2005. Recommendations arising from this process in respect of the amendment of legislation or regulation will be addressed in consultation with the Department of Health and Children.

The social services inspectorate was established in April 1999, initially on an administrative basis. Regulations to establish the inspectorate on a statutory basis and legislation to extend its remit will be introduced in both Houses later this year. The inspectorate will be charged with the inspection of the public and private nursing home sectors and with the setting of standards against which these homes will be inspected. Establishing the inspectorate on a statutory basis will strengthen its role and will provide it with the necessary independence in the performance of its functions. It will also serve to increase public confidence in State and voluntary social services. Work is in progress in the Department to allow the necessary legislative requirements to be put in place as soon as possible.

The health authorities have confirmed they wish to close Leas Cross nursing home. Is it not the case the Minister of State, the Department, the former health boards and the HSE knew about the appalling conditions in which elderly people lived in nursing homes but did nothing? Does the Minister of State agree that to allow the most vulnerable people in our society to endure such torture was shameful? Does he further agree his inaction was absolutely shameful?

Will he confirm 33 nursing homes received adverse inspection reports? Will he name them? Will he take the same action against them as was taken against Leas Cross nursing home? Does he agree a geriatrician must be deployed in these homes and reports and action are needed so that the same scenario does not occur with people suffering? When will the new legislation and regulations be introduced? The Taoiseach made promises and gave undertakings. When will action be taken?

It it totally incorrect to say we did nothing. Communication has been ongoing with the Leas Cross nursing home for some time and while progress was made, it was not happening quickly enough. We took action and sent in a new management team to rectify matters in the home. Unfortunately, it was not possible to provide the necessary changes that would have ensured the patients received appropriate care in the proper environment. In view of that, we decided to take further action and the HSE released a statement yesterday confirming the action we took.

The system in place for inspecting nursing homes was not functioning properly and did not achieve the desired result. On foot of that, we decided to take further action and will bring forward legislation later this year to put an inspectorate in place, which will cover private and public nursing homes.

Will the Minister of State reply to the question about the 33 nursing homes? Will he name them? What does he intend to do about them, given that the Leas Cross scenario applies in many different nursing homes throughout the State? I do not want to depend on "Prime Time" to tell me in a few weeks that there are other cases, I want the Minister of State to take action.

We have taken action and Leas Cross is not the only nursing home in which such action has been taken. The inspectorate has difficulties regarding nursing homes and a number of issues might need to be addressed. Some could be minor while others are severe and critical. I cannot outline the names of all the nursing homes with which the Department has had difficulties in the past.

I do not have the information with me but I can provide the Deputy with that information.

Will the Minister of State give me the names?

I certainly will, that is not a problem. It is not our intention to defend nursing homes which do not provide an acceptable level of care, particularly where the Department has assisted people to move into long-term care. We demand a certain level of care because it is the least they deserve. We will make the necessary changes to ensure older people receive appropriate care in nursing homes.

As we are still on Priority Questions and Deputy Neville has arrived, Question No. 54 may be taken.

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