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Friday 19 October 2018

Nursing home asked watchdog chairman to 'pull bad review'

Leinster House (Stock picture)
Leinster House (Stock picture)
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The chairman of the health watchdog claimed a private nursing home asked him to stop an inspection report from being published on the website of the regulatory body.

Brian McEnery, chairman of the Health Information and Quality Authority, said when he refused, he received follow-up correspondence suggesting the "disappointed party" intended to inform Oireachtas members of his "professional" role.

Mr McEnery revealed the claims at the Public Accounts Committee last Thursday where he was questioned about concerns of a potential conflict of interest raised by his dual role as an accountant who provides financial advice to nursing homes and the chairman the of the body that regulates nursing homes.

He said he was "saying this, to provide members with all of the relevant information regarding my role".

His appearance before the committee was prompted by revelations in the Sunday Independent that he attended a private meeting of nursing home operators who mooted boycotting the State's Fair Deal scheme to boost fees.

Records of the meeting show how nursing home operators had to be warned repeatedly by solicitors that they risked "dawn raids" and an investigation by the competition authority, if they took collective action to increase their funding.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) announced a review of the nursing home sector last week, saying it would proceed to investigate whether a breach of competition law had occurred if it found sufficient grounds.

In a statement, it said: "Following recent media reports, the CCPC has been monitoring the situation in the private nursing home sector and, in the last few days, information has been provided to the CCPC which raises serious concerns."

Mr McEnery denied there was a conflict of interest. He said he was invited to the meeting by Nursing Homes Ireland to discuss finances in the sector.

He said he spoke about the genesis of the Fair Deal scheme and finances in the sector, but he said he left before the meeting ended.

He insisted he was not in any way associated with the mention of "boycott" at the meeting.

He confirmed that he negotiated with the National Treatment Purchase Fund - which sets fees for nursing homes - on behalf of clients, and provides nursing homes with financial advice.

He said there was no conflict in this work and being chairman of the regulatory authority.

This was because of the "unique way" HIQA was legally constituted.

He said he disclosed his roles when he became HIQA chairman, and this was recorded in published minutes of a HIQA board meeting.

Mary Lou McDonald, the deputy leader of Sinn Fein, said she did not think that Mr McEnery should be on the board of HIQA.

Marc McSharry, the Fianna Fail TD, asked Mr McEnery to step aside "in the public interest".

He said that Mr McEnery should reflect on his position because "the right that the public have to have confidence in the organisation is not helped by the proximity you have to so many other matters".

The board of HIQA will discuss the matter at a meeting this week.

A spokesperson said Minister for Health Simon Harris was "aware the HIQA board will meet next week and consider the issues raised and believes that is appropriate".

Nursing Homes Ireland declined to attend the PAC meeting because the information on the meeting came from legally privileged documents. In a letter to the PAC, NHI also sought an agenda and questions in advance. The National Treatment Purchase Fund has been invited to appear before the PAC in the coming weeks.

Sunday Independent

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