Dáil Éireann - Volume 529 - 06 February, 2001
Written Answers. - Nursing Home Subventions.
Mr. McGuinness Mr. McGuinness
181. Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps the South Eastern Health Board is taking to determine the number of applicants who were incorrectly assessed for nursing home subventions within its area; if the South Eastern Health Board has been instructed by his Department to carry out such an assessment and to reimburse those involved; if funds were allocated to the South Eastern Health Board for this purpose in the past; and if so, the  number of applicants who were reimbursed. [3158/01]
Dr. Moffatt Dr. Moffatt
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Dr. Moffatt): I presume the Deputy is referring to the assessment of family circumstances of subvention applicants, as well as the assessment of their means which allows health boards disregard a sum equivalent to one fifth of the old age non-contributory pension when assessing these means and calculating the amount of subvention to be paid.
An additional allocation of £4 million was made available in the 1998 letters of determination to six of the eight health boards, where the regulations relating to the income disregard were applied incorrectly, to meet the costs of arrears payments in respect of the full implementation of the Health (Nursing Homes) Act, 1990, and subsequent regulations. The sum allocated to the South Eastern Health Board for this purpose was £610,000.
I should explain that the sum of £4 million was not provided solely for the purposes of the income disregard arrears. Health boards were also incurring additional expenditure as a result of the easing of family circumstances regulations in 1996. The funding was intended to address both problems and to meet funding shortfalls in the scheme generally.
Following a meeting with the Office of the Ombudsman in December 1999, the Department became aware of continuing delays in paying arrears. The Department took the matter up with the relevant boards and is continuing to pursue the matter. As far as the South Eastern Health Board is concerned, I have been advised by the board that it has made retrospective payments in respect of 144 cases to persons currently resident in nursing homes and arrangements are being made to pay arrears in respect of former subvention recipients now deceased and former recipients who are no longer resident in nursing homes.
I wish to assure the Deputy that every effort will be made to pay all outstanding arrears as soon as possible and I have instructed my Department to pursue this with the health boards concerned.
I also wish to inform the Deputy that arrangements are being made to make appropriate payments in respect of nursing home patients and their families who may have been affected by the family circumstances regulations prior to their amendment in 1999. This amendment removed the provision which allowed health boards assess the capacity of adult sons and/or daughters over 21 years of age to contribute towards the cost of nursing home care of their parent. A group representing the Department and the health boards/ERHA has been established to ensure that this process is carried out on a uniform basis. I should add that the legal advice available to me is that there is no legal liability on the State to make retrospective payments in relation to family circumstances. Nevertheless, in the interests of  fairness to the people concerned, the Minister and I have decided on this course of action. As this will be a complex exercise involving difficult issues of traceability, it may take some time to complete. Nevertheless, every effort will be made to make payments as quickly as possible.
Dáil Éireann 529 Written Answers. Nursing Home Subventions.