This is a very important debate and I welcome the proposal by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. I congratulate Professor O'Neill for producing an excellent report which makes very harrowing reading. He has done a tremendous public service to the State, and in particular to elderly people. His report is a damning indictment of the political and health systems, the HSE and the Department of Health and Children, which repeatedly failed to act despite knowing what was going on.
I call on the Minister to launch an inquiry into Bedford House nursing home in Balbriggan. Bedford House is similar to Leas Cross in that the HSE transferred patients from St. Ita's Psychiatric Hospital in Portrane to it at the same time that it transferred patients to their deaths in Leas Cross. The decision by the HSE to transfer these patients to these two nursing homes is a very serious issue. It is interesting that the HSE chose to transfer patients to a nursing home owned by a doctor, namely, Dr. Nasser. The facts are that this nursing home, Bedford House, was in a most shameful and disgraceful condition while this process was ongoing.
I will give the House some idea of what was taking place at Bedford House. A routine inspection took place on 19 February 2004. Regarding physical condition, the report concluded that the inside of the nursing home appeared very rundown. It found that the window curtains in five of the bedrooms were falling off and could not be closed. There was no screen between any of the patients in room 17, a four-bedded room upstairs. The four men in this room used commodes for toileting. The report found that in room 23, which was occupied by two patients, the curtain screen rail and curtain were on the floor and the patients' clothes were strewn over the curtain. In addition, the curtain was off the window rail and the light over the bed was not working. The report then went on to detail how emergency call bells were not working, how a bedside locker in one room was unsteady, how the door was falling off another and how the linoleum floor covering was replaced in two rooms upstairs but the old covering was left in a pile outside the front of the building.
In respect of hygiene, the report found that patients were given a bath or shower once every ten days. It found that in the sluice room downstairs, the toilet was used by patients but there was no wash hand basin and the sluice did not have a wide outlet. There were two baths in the nursing home but the one upstairs was not used. There were seven showers but only four were used and they had not been cleaned, while there were 12 toilets and one of these was being fixed. The report found that in the bathroom between bedrooms 3 and 4, the floor was dirty and the commode pan was not emptied. The floors were dirty in some of the other bathrooms and cleaning was in progress. When seats were lifted on a number of commodes, they were found to be dirty. Some beds were only half made as clean linen was unavailable and some of the vacant beds were not made up.
I have a copy of a letter of complaint from a woman whose father was a private patient of Bedford House. I will try not to identify the man in question by age. The letter complained that he had to take four stairlifts to his bedroom which was situated at the top of the nursing home. As a result, he could not go to bed when he wished and was obliged to wait for the night staff after 8 p.m. The letter went on to state that:
He shares a bedroom with another man, both of whom use commodes at night and the bedroom carpet is filthy. I find now that the day room smells of urine, which is totally unacceptable as it is both unhygienic and unhealthy. The chairs in this room are never cleaned.
My father has been in this home since August 2003 and has had the best of treatment from the staff but lately the staff numbers have been cut to a minimum and the patients are being hurried and not enough time or attention paid to them. For the past week to ten days the television is out of action — the patients have nothing else — and the answer is always the same that they are fixing it tomorrow.
She then goes on to complain about the standard of food at the nursing home. She concludes by stating that she is not sure of the solution to these problems as the bedroom is the only one available to her father due to the fact while he was in hospital for tests in October 2003, his room was given away as patients were being taken in from St. Ita's in Portrane.
This is the type of nursing home to which the HSE delivered patients. Shameful and disgraceful as Leas Cross was, this particular nursing home, to which patients from St. Ita's were transferred, is much worse. I am calling for an investigation into all aspects of the management of this home. It is interesting to note that the nurse in charge of this nursing home had an unusual duty. She was running another nursing home at the same time, something that is forbidden by law, and appears to have done so for a period of up to nine months. The health board knew about this because I am reading this from its reports. Nothing has changed since the activities at Leas Cross and Bedford House were highlighted because the law has not changed and offers no protection to patients.
I have a letter of complaint from another individual relating to the same nursing home. It states the general cleanliness of the home was undesirable, the bathrooms were smelly, excrement was dug into the floors, residents were not showered or bathed, there was a lack of supervision and some residents were not dressed in the morning and hence left in their bed clothes all day. The letter says glasses from which patients had to drink were unwashed and filthy, that they were left out of reach of patients and shared among patients and that patients did not know which drinks were their own and drank other patients' drinks. The letter goes on and on.
At the end of it all is one Government, one Minister and the HSE, which have completely avoided accountability in the Dáil. I heard the Taoiseach speak about the matter yesterday and today in the Dáil. He has some cheek to think he can get away with it. He might get away with many things but he will not get away with this because the people will not allow it. They expect better from the Minister, the Department, the HSE and the medical profession. Imagine a doctor owning the nursing home in question. I wonder what the Medical Council thinks of it.
The strangest thing is that the inspectors who were responsible for the inspection of this nursing home also inspected Leas Cross and have now been employed by the HSE in a private capacity to provide consultation in respect of an inspection regime for private nursing homes. The entire system is rotten from top to bottom. This Government has failed disgracefully in vindicating the rights of patients but worse than this, it transferred the most vulnerable elderly patients from St. Ita's to Leas Cross and Bedford House where many of them died in disgraceful conditions.
There is a difference here between public and private patients and between people who have a psychiatric illness and those who do not. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O'Malley, read a report from the European Commission that inquired into the torture and mistreatment of patients in the EU. These are people who are abused while they are in the hands of the State in an involuntary capacity. The Minister of State will stand charged before the next visit of that committee to Ireland because he delivered these unfortunate people, many of whom have since died, into the hands of the same nursing home owners who treated them disgracefully. The Minister of State knows this because he has read its last report and was a Minister of State when it was delivered. The medical profession has stood by and participated in it, as has the nursing profession, the HSE and the HSE inspectors. That is what we are living with and that is what this Government is providing to people.
Other substandard nursing homes exist. A list of 12 such homes produced in 2001 was given to me by the HSE. An inquiry should be launched into each of these homes. I will not discuss them tonight as I do not have sufficient time, but one of them was run by a Montessori teacher who had no medical training. For many months, she was the manager of a nursing home, about which she knew nothing. Strange as it may seem, although it may not seem strange at all, patient records from this nursing home were put into a skip and burned so that when inquests were held, no records could be found.
I received a complaint last week from an undertaker who said he took possession of a body which was in an appalling condition from a nursing home. He stated he had never seen anything like the condition of this body, which he said was covered in faeces, including the fingernails. He could not believe it. I also received a complaint last week concerning another nursing home from a person who said that when regular staff are off work at weekends, young people work in the home and leave the elderly patients in their own bodily fluids and faeces all night and that when the woman returns after the weekend, patients' bodies are literally caked in faeces. That is true, and that is what is going on. The Government cannot shy away from that. The Minister has done nothing about it. She stands charged before the court of public opinion. The Government has failed in the most important respect, namely, to protect the most vulnerable people in our community, our elderly.
I acknowledge the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is doing his best to provide for the needs of children, but at the other end of that scale are people who are closer to leaving this world. It is sad to recall that in one home the prayers of the dying are not read as a resident dies. I will be happy to give the Minister of State the name of that home following this debate. Nothing has changed, which is the saddest aspect of all, and nothing will change until we come into Government when we will make sure that this changes.