Health (Nursing Homes) Bill, 1989: Report and Final Stages.

Government amendment No. 1:
In page 9, after line 50, to insert the following:
"(m) provide—
(i) for the consideration and investigation by the health board concerned of a complaint made to it in writing by or on behalf of a dependent person being maintained in a nursing home in relation to any matter concerning the home or the maintenance, care, welfare or well-being of the person while being so maintained or any specified related matter, and
(ii) in case a complaint under subparagraph (i) is upheld by a health board, for the issue by the board to the registered proprietor of the nursing home concerned, if the board considers it appropriate to do so, of a direction requiring the taking by such proprietor of specified action in relation to the matter complained of,".

In response to various suggestions which have been made by Senators throughout the debate, we have looked at amendments to the Bill. In amendment No. 1 I am proposing to insert this new provision after subparagraph (1). Senators will note from the section we are proposing to amend — section 6 (1) — that it starts off with the words, "the Minister shall" and in subparagraph (ii) "without prejudice". We have various additions to that under the various subheads and this new provision will come in there. It takes account of what has been requested here. The most important point is that complaints being made are legitimate complaints and are being made in writing. We have found in other legislation, at international level in the United Kingdom and in the United States, in particular, that some people use opportunities to make nuisance complaints. This creates major problems for administration and for medical people. We want to ensure that somebody is not complaining because, for example, of some decision which was made by an individual who is institutionalised concerning, for instance, a will they were making or an indication that they wanted to dispose of their assets, or where somebody might be sulking and making nuisance complaints. We must ensure that a patient is not victimised by some third party in an anonymous way. We want to be absolutely certain that when complaints are made they are bona fide and genuine, that they can be sustained and investigated, and that the proper care and attention is given at all times. That is of paramount importance for all patients who are institutionalised, whether in private nursing homes — which will be regulated once this Bill is passed — or in public, geriatric or nursing homes which are under the care and control of the Minister for Health and the health boards. I hope the House will agree to this first amendment.

The amendment will have the support of my party. I welcome it. I am delighted that the Minister saw fit to take on board the amendment of our party which I see as improving the legislation. I am delighted that we have been in a position, through our amendments, to improve this legislation.

I do not wish to delay the House with points I have made but one cannot sufficiently emphasise that our ultimate concern is the welfare, the care and the proper provision for our old people in these institutions. In so far as the amendment achieves an advancement, it is to be welcomed. I take the Minister's point wholeheartedly in relation to the nuisance issue. One has to allow for all sorts of human variations and particularly difficult individuals. We could not have willy-nilly complaints every half hour.

Mr. Farrell

I welcome the amendment. We spent a lot of time worrying about sections of the Bill. Those amendments ensure, above all else, that the patient, the person in the nursing home, will be looked after. That is very important. I welcome that it has to be in writing. That too is important. Otherwise there would be people phoning and making nuisance calls, as the Minister said. This amendment should allay all fears and guarantee us an extra good Bill. I congratulate the Minister and his Department for bringing forward those amendments.

Like Senators Farrell and O'Reilly, I would like to compliment the Minister. He has taken on board our concerns in connection with patients in need of attention in registered nursing homes. A system will now be implemented that will cover genuine cases. We do not want complaints "willy-nilly"; we want genuine complaints in writing. I appreciate what the Minister said, and I welcome it.

We are all concerned about the care of people who are in need of institutional care in first class homes. While we did not discuss the Bill until today, we have done well. The Minister has had time to think about what we have been saying and perhaps if the same thing was done with other Bills we might not have the same problems.

I thank the Minister warmly for these amendments. The nice thing about health legislation going through this House is that we do not have party politics. I would ask the Minister to ensure that the nrusing homes or the hospitals, which are on the other side of the complaints, might be informed of them. I am also grateful for the time and consideration the Minister has given in deciding to bring in amendments. It is our responsibility as elected people to this House and to the health boards, to see that our elderly are cared for. This is very important legislation. The time we have given to it is, in justice, due to it. I thank the Minister sincerely for these amendments, which certainly improve this legislation.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 2:
In page 10, after line 5, to insert the following:
"(b) a person who fails or refuses to comply with a requirement of a direction under the regulations shall be guilty of an offence.".

This amendment means that if a complaint is made to the health board, and the health board give a direction to the proprietor of the nursing home, or to the director of the nursing home, the manager of the nursing home or the person in charge, whoever that may be, and if that direction is not carreid out, then that person and that nursing home will be guilty of an ofence under the law and shall be so prosecuted.

Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration and passed.