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Thursday 14 December 2017

HSE refuses to abide by Ombudsman recommendation to refund illegally charged patients

Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly
Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Recommendations that patients be refunded after being illegally charged thousands of euro during stays in care homes have been rejected by the Health Service Executive.

Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said the HSE had refused to abide by the findings of an investigation conducted by her office.

She described reasons given for rejecting the findings as “nonsense”.

The probe looked at 17 complaints relating to the Health Repayment Scheme, which was set up in 2006 to repay people who were charged illegally for long-stay hospital care.

In 16 of the cases, Ms O’Reilly recommended that refunds be issued. She also recommended that the remaining case be further examined by the HSE.

However, this morning she told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service, Oversight and Petitions that the HSE had rejected her recommendations, claiming she did not have the jurisdiction to make them.

“This unfortunately appears to be a continuation of a pattern of behaviour on the part of the HSE and more particularly the Department of Health in relation to Ombudsman investigations,” she said.

In all of the cases, the patients or their relatives complained to the Ombudsman after an appeals officer at the Health Repayment Scheme had already ruled against them.

Fintan Butler, a senior investigator at the office of the Ombudsman, told the committee that the HSE’s argument hinged on a technicality which had already been resolved in the mid-1980s.

“The main point made by the HSE was that the Ombudsman doesn’t have the jurisdiction to deal with the decisions of appeals officers,” he said.

“They argue that the decisions of appeals officers are not administrative actions and administrative actions are all that it is empowered to deal with.”

Mr Butler told the committee that a similar argument had been “dispatched fairly rapidly in 1985 or 1986.”

“The consequences of accepting the HSE argument now would be that virtually all social welfare cases would not be in the Ombudsman jurisdiction [and] a great deal of the health service’s activity would be outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction,” he said.

Ms O’Reilly told TDs and senators at the committee that if the HSE’s argument was to be accepted “it would be setting at nought about three decades of work we have done”.

“It is our bread and butter work. It is a nonsense given what is the universally accepted practice of the Ombudsman for the last three decades,” she said.

The HSE and the Department of Health did not immediately respond to the Ombudsman’s comments.

Ms O’Reilly was appearing at the committee in one of her final engagements as Ombudsman. She begins the role of European Ombudsman next week.

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