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What the law states on care services

The Health Act 1970 says that a "health board shall make available in-patient services for persons with full eligibility and persons with limited eligibility".

The Supreme Court's McInerney judgment in 1976 made it clear that nursing home care was included in the definition of "in-patient services".

According to Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly's report, that means the HSE is obliged to provide nursing home care for all citizens who need such care.

But the Department of Health disagrees, saying that there is a difference between a person being "eligible" for nursing home care and being "entitled" to nursing home care.

Ms O'Reilly has countered this by saying that if this argument is taken to its logical conclusion, a woman about to give birth has no legal right to maternity services, or a road traffic accident victim arriving at the emergency department of a HSE hospital has no specific legal right to be treated.

The courts will eventually decide who is right -- and there are around 300 cases in the pipeline.

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