Sinn Féin member of the Public Accounts Committee Imelda Munster TD has levelled a charge of ‘turning a blind eye’ at the Department of Health and Health regarding residents in private nursing homes being charged for items and services they are entitled to under the Medical Card Scheme.
Having introduced the Health (Medical Entitlements in Nursing Homes) Bill in 2019 to address the issue, Munster has over the past year raised the matter with Nursing Homes Ireland, the HSE, and today with the Secretary General of the Department of Health, Robert Watt.
Teachta Munster said:
“This has been a known and ongoing issue for some years that in effect results in residents of private nursing homes who are medical card holders being charged for the likes of sanitary items or occupational therapist services that they are fully entitled to under the medical card scheme.
“One year ago the HSE told me that they had no legal authority to take action, but that they would raise this matter in their engagements with other stakeholders, including the Department of Health.
“Today when asked about this matter the Secretary General of the Department did not seem across it at all, which is incredibly disappointing given that this has been a consistent matter of discussion within the Oireachtas for a period of years now.
“That said, I am not surprised by this – a recent Freedom of Information response from the HSE shows that following my previous engagement with them, they too appeared uncertain as to what exactly was being discussed.
“The same FOI, while acknowledging that the most straightforward solution would be to insert a clause into contracts stipulating that medical card holders that are residents in nursing homes are not to be charged for any items or services that are free of charge under their medical car; also contained what I would describe as a disinterested and apathetic suggestion that the HSE might simply suggest to the PAC that this was a matter for Committee to engage with the nursing homes on.
“It is the nursing homes placing an undue financial burden on its residents – and the HSE who have admitted the solution is in their hands.
“Unfortunately, from our engagement today it appears the current leadership of the Department of Health have adopted that disinterested, apathetic position.
“The Department of Health or HSE could address this issue tomorrow if the political will existed – I intend to continue raising this at every opportunity with both until they do.”