Threat to homes of 1,500 with disabilities
Centres for people with disability accommodating more than 1,500 people have been put at risk because of the failure to comply with standards.
Ninety-three centres for people with disability require capital spending to comply with the health watchdog's regulations on fire safety, overcrowding and upgrading of old buildings. Seventy-nine of them have already failed to meet a deadline for compliance, according to records released under the Freedom of Information Act.
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"The net effect of all of this is that the homes of more than 1,500 residents are at risk of a breach of their conditions of registration," said a briefing note from the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).
The briefing note said the majority of centres requiring significant capital investment were run by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and that the €2.9m allocated to bring the buildings into compliance this year was insufficient.
The health watchdog planned to raise the deteriorating conditions of residential centres - including public nursing homes - with the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, last March but was advised not to. An official in his department suggested in an email that alerting the minister appeared "somewhat premature" and HIQA was instead advised to escalate the issue with the HSE.
The chairman of HIQA, Pat O'Mahony, wrote to the minister days later, outlining the organisation's concerns about "this urgent matter". He told the minister that HIQA's chief inspector, Mary Dunnion, had "significant concerns" about renewing the registration of a "substantial number" of disability centres and public nursing homes and of the "impending risk" that registration of a number of centres would have to be cancelled as they will not have the required works implemented by the 2021 deadline.
The poor physical condition of public residential centres has been flagged as a potential crisis. Many are housed in older buildings, and consistently fail to meet standards set by the regulator, which is legally obliged to take enforcement action.
The Sunday Independent has previously reported that up to 45 public nursing homes requiring capital investment are at risk because they will not have the necessary works completed by the 2021 deadline.
The HSE has acknowledged the "environmental challenges" in older centres and has said it is "conscious of its responsibilities" in terms of the quantity and quality of service that is to be provided.