Leas Cross owner offers free care

THE owner of Leas Cross nursing home yesterday made a desperate bid to retain residents, offering its services free for six months.

As health chiefs continued to move public residents out of the north Dublin home following health and safety concerns, John Aherne said he wanted to alleviate any stress for residents.

"Faced with the prospect of the residents' best interests being jeopardised by the health service executive course of action, I now publicly offer the facilities of Leas Cross free of charge to them for a period of six months whilst the newly recommended staff levels are put in place.

"This a further indication of the good faith and commitment to residents of Leas Cross well-being and care," Mr Aherne said.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael has accused the Government of shirking responsibility for the failure of the State's inspection system to ensure acceptable standards at Leas Cross.

"The Taoiseach told the Dáil on June 1 the problem with Leas Cross was not the inspection regime," party leader Enda Kenny said. "He now admits that the inspection system has failed to meet the needs of vulnerable patients."

Earlier, Mr Ahern had told the Dáil that the Government did not know until this month about a preliminary report furnished to the health authorities almost a year ago that was critical of Leas Cross.

The report, by the former head of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, Martin Hynes, was commissioned by the then Eastern Regional Health Authority in the autumn of 2001 after complaints were received following the death of a patient at Leas Cross.

Peter McKenna, a 60-year-old who had Down syndrome and Alzheimer's disease, died in October 2000, a fortnight after being transferred to Leas Cross from another facility.

Mr McKenna's family had not wanted him transferred, but the High Court made the final decision, as he was a ward of court.

Mr Ahern said the finalisation of Mr Hynes's report was "impeded" because High Court clearance was needed before Mr McKenna's medical records could be released. This clearance did not come through until August 2003.

The report which was considered a preliminary one was then finalised, according to Mr Ahern, but "it wasn't brought to the Government's attention at all."

"When there is a report by a health board or the Health Service Executive about a case, people think that every such report and examination is brought to the Government," he added. "It is not."

It was only when RTÉ's Prime Time programme exposed conditions at Leas Cross and Mr McKenna's case came into the public domain that he was made aware of the report, he said. Even then, however, the report was not finalised until June 8.

"The Government didn't know about any report, and couldn't have known about any report, because there was no report until after the programme," he said.

"Clearly, the delay in finalising the report about (Mr McKenna's) death and the delay in acting on it is not satisfactory for me or the Tánaiste," he added.

"It demonstrates again that the system previously in place did not meet the needs of vulnerable patients. I accept there are 20,000 people in both private and public nursing homes, but there must be standards that are adequate in every case."

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