Wednesday 24 July 2019

Warning shots were fired a decade ago - yet patients still can't count on the system

(stock photo)
(stock photo)
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

It is more than a decade since the HSE was told to overhaul the way it manages the private accounts of patients in its long-term care.

It is currently the keeper of around €120m in personal funds which are the property of people in nursing homes, disability centres and mental health facilities.

They range from pension books to the proceeds of the sale of family homes, property documents and businesses.

At that point it was told it could no longer keep the interest on these accounts.

It was holding on to the interest as an "administration fee" for the work involved.

The interest is now distributed among the individual account holders. But according to the HSE's own audit for 2016, it is still falling down in its role as an agent for the safekeeping of these funds.

We already know that older people and patients in disability centres or psychiatric facilities are vulnerable and put their trust in their carers. The onus therefore is on the HSE to ensure that the highest standards are in place when it comes to their finances and not allow any short cuts to heighten any risk.

It is inexcusable to some that HSE care homes were still confused about the need to ensure all documentation is filled out and verified if any withdrawals take place from an resident's account.

HSE management said it had already brought it to the attention of care homes in the past two years in letters.

Charity scandals in recent years have also highlighted the need for different staff to be involved in various functions in managing an account, to prevent the chance of control falling into the hands of a fraudster.

The HSE says it does not have enough staff to meet this standard in all centres, but has put other checks in place.

It must be acknowledged that the HSE audit found no evidence of fraud, but the breaches certainly expose weaknesses.

As the population ages, and more people will be in the care of the State, there is a need for modern systems to be examined to protect their finances.

This latest worrying report comes in the wake of the revelations last year that several private nursing homes are charging Fair Deal residents "top up" charges to cover areas such as social activities.

These charges remain unregulated. The Department of Health said yesterday an inter-departmental working group set up to oversee a review of the Fair Deal scheme in 2015 has still to report. "As part of this examination, visits to private, voluntary and public HSE-run nursing homes are currently being planned."

The fact the on-site visits are only being carried out this year speaks volumes about the lack of urgency.

Irish Independent

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