HSE under fire for €100m raid on nursing home fund
The Health Service Executive (HSE) was under pressure last night to explain why it plundered €100m from its nursing home fund to pay for therapies and drugs.
It followed revelations by Health Minister James Reilly that funds were removed from the €1.01bn allocated for nursing home care, including the Fair Deal scheme that gives elderly residents financial support.
Earlier this week the HSE said it only had enough funds to pay for the 22,900 people already in nursing homes because of a cash crisis and that all new applicants for financial support would have to go on a waiting list.
It blamed the crisis on demand and rising costs but did not disclose that part of the funds had been used for services supposed to be paid for from separate allocations.
However, the minister said last night that he "drilled down" to find out where the money had gone and ordered that the €100m be restored to resume the Fair Deal scheme and allow those who meet the criteria to be offered a nursing home place. "In some respects it is a line in the sand this early in the year. It is a warning for all of us on the need to drill down to see how money is spent, who makes the decisions and on what logic," he said.
But he could not give any guarantee that the Fair Deal scheme would not have waiting lists again after the €100m was spent, although he said he would look at other issues such as admission policies to free up money and the availability of home-care packages as an alternative to the scheme.
The HSE insisted last night that the €1.01bn budget was "always and will continue to be used exclusively for the care of older people in nursing homes."
A spokeswoman said it was seeking clarity from the Department of Health on the minister's statement in the context of the services it was obliged to provide for 2011.
It warned of continuing pressures on the budget and increasing demand, saying it would continue to receive applications.
There are 11,836 older people receiving financial support under the Fair Deal scheme, which was introduced in October 2009, and another 4,225 have arrangements such as contract beds.
The rest of people in long- stay care are outside the scheme and pay 80pc of their pension or allowance.
The department could not say how much of the funds were used for therapy and who benefited from it. A spokesman said it could also not say who received the drugs.
The HSE has not disclosed who sanctioned the decision to divert the funds and if any actions would follow.
Dr Reilly said: "I have not finished this investigation yet and there are other areas which need to be examined around admission policies, assessment and variations in assessments."