Sunday 22 September 2019

Nursing home overspend reaches €300m as PAC launches investigation

Out of office: Labour’s former minister of state Kathleen Lynch. Photo: Tom Burke
Out of office: Labour’s former minister of state Kathleen Lynch. Photo: Tom Burke
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is to investigate a public nursing home investment project that has run €300m over budget.

The cost of the scheme to upgrade more than 90 State-run nursing homes has risen to €700m and is now being reviewed by the Department of Health amid concerns it will be a spending debacle on a par with the National Children's Hospital controversy.

The 'Sunday Independent' revealed yesterday the Community Nursing Home Programme is also running significantly behind schedule with fewer than half the projects completed on time.

It could mean dozens of nursing homes won't meet strict health and safety guidelines, set down by the watchdog Hiqa, which come into place in 2021.

PAC chairman Seán Fleming said his committee would be seeking a copy of the department's review and expressed concerns over another health project running over budget.

"The bottom line is the PAC needs to examine this, we are concerned at the ability of Department of Health and HSE to manage these projects. This is a further example of their inability to manage this and PAC will want to look at this," he said.

Around €385m was first earmarked for the scheme when it was announced by former Labour Party minister of state for older people Kathleen Lynch in 2016.

It included plans to replace 33 existing nursing homes with new buildings, while refurbishing or extending another 57 facilities.

The capital investment project was expected to create 125 nursing home beds and provided safer facilities. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was the senior minister in the department when it was approved.

Speaking to the Irish Independent yesterday, Ms Lynch defended the scheme and said she was out of office by the time it was implemented. "I made the argument on the basis that if we don't do this, Hiqa is going to close them all down. The State should surely have a part to play in the care of the elderly."

She said she had asked for €500m which was "an enormous ask but it was agreed to", she claimed. Ms Lynch, who lost her seat in the 2016 General Election, said it was "a pity" the scheme had run over-budget but insisted it was necessary to provide a mix of suitable public and private care for the elderly.

As a senior Fine Gael source blamed Labour for the scheme's overrun, the party's leader Brendan Howlin, who was Public Expenditure Minister at the time, distanced himself from the matter.

Mr Howlin is understood to believe the blame lies with Fine Gael as the scheme was announced just four weeks before the 2016 General Election after which his party was out of office.

A Labour spokesperson said: "For these nursing homes, like the National Children's Hospital, the responsibility lies with the Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe who have had responsibility for these projects since May 2016."

Mr Fleming said PAC would discuss the spending overrun when it meets in September.

Irish Independent

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