State nursing home project soars €300m over budget as Government fears new spending controversy
A major public nursing home investment project announced while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was health minister has soared €300m over budget, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
The scheme to upgrade the standards in more than 90 State-run nursing homes has also fallen significantly behind schedule and it is feared less than half of the project will be completed on time.
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This means dozens of nursing homes will not meet strict new health and safety regulations which come into place in 2021, despite the massive taxpayer investment in the scheme.
There are now serious concerns within Government that the project's multimillion euro cost overrun and delay could result in a spending debacle on a par with the National Children's Hospital controversy.
Around €385m was first earmarked for upgrading 90 State-owned nursing homes when the project was announced by former Labour Party Minister of State for Older People, Kathleen Lynch in 2016.
Mr Varadkar was the senior minister in the Department of Health at the time of the announcement.
The Community Nursing Unit Programme included plans to replace 33 existing nursing homes with new buildings, while refurbishing or extending an additional 57 facilities. The capital investment project was supposed to lead to the creation of 125 new nursing home beds and provided safer facilities.
However, the cost of the project has now risen to a massive €700m, and the programme is the subject of an internal review by the Department of Health.
The review is examining the budget overrun and the implications for dozens of nursing homes that will not meet Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) regulations, which come into force in 2021.
The Sunday Independent previously revealed up to 45 State-run nursing homes are set to miss the deadline to comply with the health watchdog's standards which could put them at risk of closure.
However, the Department of Health is understood to be exploring whether they could come to an arrangement with Hiqa on the number of nursing homes which are set to meet the deadline for health and safety standards.
When contacted for comment, Minister for Older People, Jim Daly, who is responsible for the scheme, told the Sunday Independent he was not surprised by the cost overrun or the failure to meet the project's deadline.
"It is always disappointing when deadlines are missed, but the important thing here is to get the project right, these buildings are older people's homes. Irish community hospitals have been neglected for decades and this Government is ensuring that every community in the country will have state-of-the-art facilities for their older citizens."
The minister said issues around planning permission, land acquisition and changes to building regulations have delayed the project.
Mr Daly said an 8pc per year inflation in construction costs was the main reason for the overrun of the project's budget.
The minister would not reveal the cost overrun for the project, but said: "Value for money for the tax payer is not an issue here, as each individual project goes through a rigorous tendering process before the contract is awarded."
When she announced the scheme, Ms Lynch said: "Having visited many of these 90 facilities, I know that residents and their families attest to the excellence of the care received but the physical environment needs improvement."