A Dublin hospital has taken legal action against an elderly patient who has occupied a bed for nearly four years and "refuses" to leave. The elderly woman has been ready for discharge from St James's Hospital in Dublin since May 2010.
The hospital wanted to transfer the woman to a nursing home. The hospital says the patient "refused" to apply for the State's Fair Deal scheme, which provides financial support to people who need long-term nursing home care. Her family also allegedly "refused to pursue the patient's options" under the scheme.
Management at St James's Hospital sued the patient for the fees and secured an order in the High Court last July.
According to the hospital, the patient has appealed the order. "No steps have been taken by the patient or her family to pursue an application for long-term care funding under the Fair Deal Scheme, and the hospital charges continue to accumulate," said the statement.
The unusual stand-off is one of the few cases in which hospitals trying to free up acute hospital beds have taken legal action against so-called bed-blockers.
A report showed that in one week last year, 753 patients – known as delayed discharges – occupied hospital beds around the country even though they were deemed well enough to be discharged. The cost has been estimated at more than €600,000 a year.
Public and voluntary hospitals can pursue long-stay patients for fees if they are in hospital for more than 30 days and a doctor certifies that they no longer need acute medical care.
St James's Hospital has not disclosed how much it is owed in fees by the patient concerned. However, the maximum charge a public patient can be charged for long-stay care in hospital is €175 a week. That works out at more than €9,000 for each year she spends in hospital.
The St James's statement said: "St James's Hospital is a hospital providing in-patient care for those in need of acute services. Patients who no longer need acute care are discharged home, or are discharged to a suitable care facility. The patient in question has not required acute hospital care since May 2010."
It continued: "The hospital's Social Work Department has been actively engaged in finding and offering long-term care options to the patient, but neither the patient nor her children will complete the necessary forms to enable her to avail of such options.
"If patients refuse to accept discharge from acute care, the hospital is obliged under the Health (Amendment) Act of 2005 and the Regulations made under the Act to charge the patient for the bed being occupied."
The case came before the High Court in July last year, when the hospital secured an order against the patient for fees. The decision has since been appealed.
The HSE did not reply when asked if it had begun legal proceedings against long-stay public patients who are holding up hospital beds.
The director general of the HSE has said that reducing "delayed discharges" is one of its cost-saving targets.
Calls to solicitors acting for the patient were not returned.