Deputy Imelda Munster.
Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster has said that the practice by many private nursing homes of charging elderly residents for items and services they are entitled to free of charge with their medical cards is a scandal which needs to stop.
Munster welcomed news that almost 600 nursing homes are to receive a warning from the state’s consumer watchdog, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) about imposing unfair additional charges on residents of nursing homes.
The CCPC has identified potentially unfair terms in the contracts of some private nursing homes, and has said that these providers should review these contracts to ensure that they are legally compliant.
Deputy Munster has said that further to this, the law needs to be strengthened to deal with this issue, which has seen elderly residents of nursing homes being hit with large bills for items that they are legally entitled to as medical card holders, including drugs, bandages, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy.
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Deputy Munster said:
“I am aware of many cases where private nursing homes are charging elderly residents fees for items and services that they are legally entitled to as full medical card holders. I know of one case where the family of an elderly person was charged almost €2,500 over a fifteen-month period for medicines, drugs and bandages.
“This is completely unfair and it is unacceptable. Holders of medical cards are entitled to these services free of charge. If items are not covered under the medical card, nursing homes can apply for assistance under the Hardship Scheme, so there is no excuse for residents to be receiving bills.
“Families have reported that they are being hounded for payments by agents contracted by service providers. This has to stop.
“Another issue I have come across is that of respite patients who bring their own medicines into respite care with them. I have seen cases where nursing homes have told them not to take this medication as they’ll make a new order for them. This leaves the patient paying the statutory charge for medications twice.
“Nursing homes are taking advantage of vulnerable, elderly people, and their families, who are often under pressure to secure a place in a nursing home, by asking them to sign contracts that are complex and incomprehensible to most ordinary people. These contracts need to be simplified and transparent, and notwithstanding the contracts, people in possession of a medical card should never lose their entitlements as a result of signing such a contract, and they should not be charged for services to which they are entitled as medical card holders. This blatant discrimination has to stop.
“We have to protect elderly people living in nursing homes. We need proper oversight in the sector, including the HSE playing their part in ensuring they regularly engage with private nursing homes to ensure exceptional governance is ongoing. This should be in addition to the statutory obligations of HIQA to ensure that best local practice is adhered to.
This government also have a responsibility to ensure that legislation is robust, to bring this practice to an end. They can’t close down public nursing homes and shove people into private nursing homes, absolving themselves of all responsibility to these citizens.”