The Dublin government has deprived thousands of older people of their legal entitlement to nursing home care, according to a report by the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly.
Successive governments have also repeatedly failed to amend the law to clarify entitlements to nursing home care, forcing vulnerable elderly people to seek care in private homes, often at huge cost to themselves and families, it says.
‘Who Cares? An investigation into the right to nursing home care in Ireland’ concludes that access to nursing home care over four decades has been marked by “confusion, uncertainty, misinformation, inconsistency and inequity”.
It says the State has “failed consistently” to meet its obligation to provide nursing home care over this period and, as a result, now faces several hundred legal actions from people seeking compensation for costs incurred in availing of private nursing home care.
The report said the situation had been allowed continue with the full knowledge and consent of the responsible State agencies.
The government has already admitted it illegally charged tens of thousands of older people who held medical cards while receiving public care in nursing homes up until 2004. However, it has so far refused to admit liability in more than 300 legal cases taken by, or on behalf of, old people who were unable to receive nursing home care from the State because no public beds were available.
In her report, Emily O’Reilly describes how she faced “an unprecedented level of rancour and disagreement” from the 26-County Department of Health.
She also accused the current Dublin government of undertaking the “most serious” jurisdictional challenge mounted against her office since its establishment.
Minister for Health Mary Harney accused the Ombudsman of ‘overstepping her remit’.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore accused the government of “systematically slaughtering the watchdogs whose purpose is to stand up for the rights of individual citizens”.
The Government, Mr Gilmore added, was “a serial offender” as far as dealing with bodies, including the office of the ombudsman, which were supposed to stand for people.
CHEESE THROWN AT CAR
The Minister for Health’s car was pelted with eggs and cheese by protesters as she arrived at Nenagh General Hospital for an official function.
About 30 protesters, who blame Mary Harney for presiding over the downgrading of services in Nenagh in recent years, held placards and shouted slogans at the Minister as her car was driven through the hospital gates.
Protesters shouted “bloody Mary” and “you’ve got blood on your hands” as the Minister got out of her car at the hospital’s front door.
The cheese was a reference to the recent announcement by the Dublin government that it is to provide free cheese to relieve hardship this Christmas.