Money taken from HSE patients' accounts without full clearance
Health staff withdrew money from the private bank accounts of some long-stay residents in HSE nursing and care homes without securing proper clearance, a damning report has revealed.
The internal HSE report, obtained by the Irish Independent, found a range of serious weaknesses in the handling of these private accounts, worth €136.3m.
Over 12,000 long-stay patients, including nursing home residents, as well as people in disability or psychiatric facilities, who live there permanently, have left their accounts with managers for safe-keeping.
They can include bank accounts, pension books, property documents, investments or jewellery.
However, an internal financial audit of the 155 centres revealed:
A number of instances where funds were taken from the account to pay for services such as the resident's hairdressing without getting written consent or securing witnesses.
In some instances the resident left the facility for a few days and a relative was given money from the account for daily expenses. No authorisation was needed.
One care home was deducting rent and long-stay charges from patient accounts.
In a number of care centres understaffing meant that certain staff were not allocated the task of making lodgements and payments, maintaining local records and completing bank reconciliations.
Full bank reconciliations were not carried out in all care centres - creating the risk that fund transfers were not being properly recorded.
In the case of Cregg House in Sligo - a home for people with an intellectual disability - the majority of residents' social welfare payments were lodged directly into the centre's own bank account.
The social welfare payments of two residents in Heather House nursing home in Cork were also lodged directly into the centre's own account.
The report also showed that some centres were not adhering to the rule to keep patients' balances at between €200 and €800.
In some cases the accounts were as high as €15,000.
In three centres the managers of care centres paid for "comfort" activities for residents out of central funds when they should have debited their accounts.
It meant that overdrawn patient accounts totalled between €25,700 to €63,800 in these three care homes.
The report, which has been sent to the Comptroller and Auditor General, is now to be investigated by the Public Accounts Committee, it was announced earlier this week.
The report said that overall there was no evidence of fraud, but it made a series of recommendations to tighten financial control.
It said a range of weaknesses were found which exposed the HSE to material risk.
New rules governing private patient accounts were introduced a decade ago after it was found that care centres could no longer retain the interest as an administration fee for handling the financial transactions.
The accounts were boosted to €191.8m in 2009 after thousands of residents received back-payments under the nursing home repayment scheme.
The sums fell due to withdrawals of high probate amounts.