€15m from nursing home residents still unpaid to HSE
The HSE is owed more than €15m from the estates of nursing home residents who deferred payment for their care under the Fair Deal scheme until after their death.
The slow return of unpaid money comes as the HSE is demanding an extra €31m in 2016 for the means-tested scheme which subsidises weekly nursing home fees of around €1,000.
The additional money is needed if the waiting time for a place in a nursing home is to be maintained at four weeks, according to the HSE's pre-estimates submission on funding for the service.
The scheme has had to be bailed out of crisis by another €74m already this year after waiting times for a nursing home bed reached three months.
As the population ages, another 743 older people are expected to need a nursing home place next year, on top of more than 22,000 who are already getting their care subsidised.
A spokeswoman for the Revenue Commissioners, which is charged with collection of the money after the resident's death, said €29.2m has been repaid to date and a further €234,622 interest has been collected. But the overall payments due since 2009 have amounted to €44.64m .
In some cases the repayment has had to be deferred because of special family circumstances.
"Revenue does not pursue payment in such cases until notified by the HSE that the further deferral has ceased on the relevant case," they said.
If the repayment arises because of the death of the nursing home resident it must be repaid within 12 months of the date of death. Otherwise, interest will apply from the date of death.
In the event of the resident's property being sold while they are still alive it should be returned within six months.
Some fees will never be repaid because the "accountable person" who was delegated to look after the deceased resident's estate does not have a PPS number.
The failure by the Exchequer to provide the necessary extra funding for the Fair Deal scheme risks a return to waiting times of several months for elderly people who need a nursing home bed and also a rise in the numbers who cannot leave hospital. This in turn leads to even more overcrowding in hospital emergency departments.
Fianna Fail spokesman on health, Billy Kelleher, said the news that emergency department overcrowding in August was 40pc higher than the same month last year is "yet another indictment of Minister Varadkar's tenure in the Department of Health".
He said the minister is now proposing to reconvene the emergency taskforce which published a report five months ago.
"It's not clear how this will improve the situation. Since the last action plan was announced in April we have seen a number of 100-year-old patients having to spend 24 hours on trolleys while awaiting admission for urgent treatment," he said.
"It's clear that much more is needed and that the action to date has been piecemeal and is not tackling the root causes of the crisis.
"Over 6,500 patients were treated on trolleys during the month of August, traditionally the quietest month of the year, and this will only get worse as we approach the winter."
Mr Kelleher said that "what we really need to see is an immediate enforcement of a six-hour target for the one million patients attending emergency departments every year, with an absolute ban on any patient staying over six hours".