At today’s meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, Sinn Féin TD for Louth and East Meath Imelda Munster raised serious concerns about the overcharging of residents in private nursing homes under the Nursing Home Support Scheme (the “Fair Deal”), questioning whether some terms of these contracts are in line with the Nursing Homes Support Schemes Act 2009, which puts the scheme on a statutory footing.
Deputy Munster was questioning Paul Reid, CEO of the HSE, Colm O’Reardon, Acting Secretary General at the Department of Health and others at today’s meeting, which was examining the special report of the Comptroller and Auditor General into the operation of the Nursing Home Support Scheme.
She raised the matter of residents in private nursing homes having to pay for items that they are entitled to free of charge under their medical cards, and the practice of applying increases to residents’ bills as a result of a change in their medical needs, despite this being prohibited by the legislation for scheme-supported residents.
Teachta Munster said:
“The facts of this appear clear to me – by law, private nursing homes should not be charging patients for items such as incontinence pads, wound dressings, sore creams and medications that residents are entitled to free of charge under their medical cards.
“If they were living in the community these items would be free of charge under their medical card.
“Further to this, the act explicitly prohibits nursing homes from charging increased fees for increased dependency levels for scheme-supported residents. However the C&AG’s investigation showed that five out of six of the sample contracts examined include reference to a change in fees if residents’ level of dependency changes. The report found that there is no clear distinction in the contracts of private patients and patients who are supported under the Fair Deal scheme.
“Private nursing homes are already charging each and every patient the maximum fee as negotiated with the National Treatment Purchase Fund regardless of their need. Charging more on top of that due to a resident’s health needs increasing is absolutely disgraceful.
“This raises serious legal questions around how some private nursing homes are doing business under the scheme.
“I have been raising this issue for years. I have a bill on this issue, the Health (Medical Entitlements in Nursing Homes) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2019 which I hope to progress in the coming months.
“In two week’s time the National Treatment Purchase Fund will be before the PAC and I will certainly be raising these matters with them.
“People in nursing homes can be very vulnerable. We have to ensure that those who are tasked with looking after them are not over-charging them or taking advantage of them. We need to see a stop put to these disgraceful practices.”