Health authorities knew about care abuse of elderly residents at Leas Cross nursing home almost a year before a Prime Time documentary exposed it on RTE, Fine Gael claimed today.
Party leader Enda Kenny told the Dail that officials were warned about a poor inspection regime at the North Dublin premises as early as August 2004.
The Prime Time programme, screened last May, highlighted several examples of substandard care and patient neglect.
An undercover reporter secretly filmed a patient with several untreated bedsores who went on to develop the superbug MRSA.
Leas Cross shut down several weeks later and its residents were transferred elsewhere.
Mr Kenny today called for the immediate establishment of an independent inspectorate, which was promised by the Taoiseach last year.
“It does not now appear in any of the Government’s own legislative programmes,” he said.
“This delay has caused absolutely massive concern to those owners of nursing homes where the standard of care and attention is as it should be.
“But because of your government’s failure to draft legislation for an independent inspectorate, everybody is being dragged down by those who don’t measure up to even minimum standards.
“So can you explain why your government has failed on this fundamental issue in respect of the elderly, the old, the frail and in many cases the neglected?”
Mr Ahern replied: “Legislation is being prepared that will provide for the establishment of a Health Information Quality Authority and a Social Services Inspectorate.”
In the meantime, he reminded TDs that the existing registration system under the Health Nursing Homes Act continues to monitor standards.
“All of these issues are being monitored and monitored closely,” he added.
Mr Ahern said the Health Services Executive carried out immediate inspections of nursing homes after the Leas Cross controversy.
“The HSE has advised us that they will continue to closely monitor conditions in nursing homes to ensure a high level of care is afforded to residents.”
He added that the HSE had learned lessons from issues surrounding the Leas Cross premises.
Mr Kenny told TDs: “I also believe that in August 2004, some nine months before the Prime Time programme, the health authorities were given specific warning about serious inadequacies in the inspection regime and were alerted to the type of activities that the nation saw on that programme.
“And I believe there was worse that was seen by the inspectors. We can only speculate on how much suffering the elderly in that case had to put up with.
“Growing old is becoming increasingly like being punished for a crime that you have not committed.
“Your government has had massive resources at its disposal. You have wasted obscene amounts of money for many years. You opened this nursing home and you didn’t open it for that kind of standards but it is your responsibility to have your government bring in legislation here that those standards are seen to be monitored.”
Mr Kenny queried when an inquiry investigating 97 deaths at Leas Cross will be published.
“This is not just about ordinary legislation,” he said.
“It is about the lives and quality of lives of those who built this country and are in their last years. They deserve comfort, high standards and the knowledge that the state takes an interest in their welfare.”
Mr Kenny said a July 2005 review commissioned by the HSE declared that Leas Cross should never have been registered and that nine of the 11 double bedrooms were below the required standard.
Mr Ahern insisted that the Government was committed to the care of the elderly and had provided an extra €150m for the area in the Budget.
Mr Kenny said the Leas Cross debacle was a national scandal that brought shame on the country.
“The old and the sick and the frail were exposed to degrading and horrific treatment,” he concluded.