THOUSANDS of relatives of people who died in state-run nursing homes have got average compensation payments of €22,000 each.
The scheme was set up to provide compensation for medical card holders who had their pensions illegally docked for staying in a public nursing home as far back as 1976.
It has now emerged that almost two thirds of all the compensation from the scheme went to the relatives of deceased nursing home residents.
In total, 12,736 relatives got compensation payments worth €287m on behalf of deceased family members -- an average of €22,000 each. They accounted for almost 60pc of the 21,375 successful claims. They were only allowed to claim if their relative had died in the six-year period before the problem of illegal nursing home charges was officially admitted in 2004.
The relatives also kept almost all the money for themselves -- with just €348,442 (0.07pc) of the total compensation being donated to a special HSE fund to pay for health services for elderly and disabled people.
The payments to relatives of those who died in public nursing homes accounted for €287m of the €442m paid out in compensation under the "health repayment scheme", with the remainder going to patients who were alive.
But unlike living nursing home residents, who were given tax-free payouts, the relatives of those who had died had to pay tax on the compensation they received.
It cost the state another €15m to get accounting firm KPMG and legal firm McCann Fitzgerald to process the applications and manage the payouts from the scheme. The cost so far is €472m, when other administrative costs are included.
Independent Roscommon-South Leitrim TD Denis Naughten said the problem, which began in 1976, should have been dealt with far more quickly.
"It is frustrating to think that in many cases you had elderly people who had money taken illegally from them and because of the delays in recognising the issue and issuing repayment, many people had passed away and weren't able to benefit from it," he said.
Mr Naughten personally dealt with one family in Roscommon who had received a compensation payment of €100,000 on behalf of their deceased mother. He said the family did not give a "red cent" to the health service because their complaints about their mother's pension being illegally taken had been ignored for years.
"But I know for a fact that they made a number of substantial contributions to local charities, including a mental health organisation and a hospice," he said.
When asked if it was disappointed with the low level of donations to its special fund, the HSE said many people stated that they were going to make a donation to a public nursing home themselves.
The scandal of the illegal nursing home charges proved embarrassing for current Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, who was Minister for Health when officials were discussing what to do about the problem. He said he had missed a briefing on the issue because he had arrived late at a meeting.
His successor, Health Minister Mary Harney, admitted the problem in 2004 and predicted that the overall compensation bill would be €1bn. But the latest cost is €472m, with the vast majority of claims now processed.
The HSE said a small number of complex claims were being dealt with, as well as some appeals and payments.