Government faces backlash over nursing home closures
Labour backbenchers and senators will openly challenge Health Minister James Reilly on Tuesday over the closure of community nursing homes.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to march in Abbeyleix, Co Laois, today over the issue which has sharpened tensions between backbench TDs and senators and what is being seen as an aloof and out of touch Cabinet.
Three elderly ladies with a combined age of 274 years have launched legal proceedings in the High Court challenging a HSE decision to close long-term residential beds in the community nursing home in Abbeyleix for financial reasons.
The case against the HSE and Dr Reilly has been taken by Maureen Delaney, 89, Bridget O'Neill, 92, and Catherine Kelly, 93.
On Friday, Mr Justice Paul Butler granted counsel leave to challenge the closure decision in judicial review proceedings.
The matter will come before the courts next month.
The HSE is also to close the St Brigid's community nursing home in Shaen, outside Portlaoise, Co Laois.
In a statement the HSE said: "The provision of long-stay care for older people is under constant review in order to provide a better sustainable service for patients. The decision has now been taken to close this unit so as to optimise the use of the available resource in Laois/Offaly.
"By so doing, the available resources will be consolidated in the remaining four units ensuring the ongoing provision of high quality, safe services in those units."
Joseph Ruane, area manager of HSE Midlands, told the Sunday Independent: "Cuts to the HSE budget, the public sector staff moratorium and compliance with future HIQA standards have made this decision necessary."
However, Labour senator John Whelan said it is now clear that there is a strategy to close all 120 state-run community nursing homes and move to a model where all the elderly who need residential care are accommodated in private facilities.
The claim was denied by a spokesman for Dr Reilly who said the minister remained committed to community nursing homes.
But Mr Whelan added: "This is a huge issue among ordinary people; the Government can expect a revolt. This will make the medical card for the over 70s row pale into insignificance.
"It will make the row over the closure of army barracks look like the teddy bears' picnic."
Mr Whelan said there is public and political outrage and warned that the issue would be very divisive in Government unless Dr Reilly intervenes, reins in the HSE and puts a stay on hospital closures until the consequences of the current HSE policy can be fully assessed.
Labour Party chairman Jack Wall said there is a general feeling among backbenchers from both government parties that there is a deliberate move by the HSE to close as many community nursing homes as possible.
He said that he had written to Dr Reilly asking him to meet the Labour parliamentary party on Tuesday.
"It's up to backbenchers to make their voices heard. I believe many backbenchers and senators are angry, concerned and upset. It's an attack on the vulnerable and it is up to us to express our anger and concern through the mechanism of direct talks with the minister," he said.