Minster Sean Power said he was in discussions with officials at the Department of Health about a potential investigation into conditions at the Bedford House nursing home in Balbriggan, Co Dublin and he expected to conclude those talks within a matter of weeks.
“There are serious questions to be answered in relation to that (the nursing home) and I have not made any decision on it,” he said. “It’s not something I want to long-finger.”
Bedford House was exposed by Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd as one of the seven nursing homes on the east coast that have had new admissions suspended by the health authorities in recent weeks because of poor standards of care.
In the Dáil a fortnight ago, Deputy O’Dowd said the home was “much worse” than the disgraced Leas Cross facility, with residents living in dirty conditions and receiving baths or showers as little as once every ten days.
Mr Power told the Oireachtas health committee yesterday that lessons would be learned from the Leas Cross scandal. “Everything must be done to avoid a situation like Leas Cross ever happening again,” he said.
He was tackled by Deputy O’Dowd, however, for failing to hold anyone accountable for the neglect and mistreatment suffered by residents at the home.
Deputy O’Dowd also demanded an explanation as to why two former health authority employees, Jack Buckley and Michael Walsh, who had been responsible for inspecting Leas Cross, were now employed by the Health Service Executive (HSE) as private consultants to advise on inspecting nursing homes. “How come the people who were responsible for an inspection regime which clearly failed are employed to inspect further nursing homes?” he asked.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable that that has happened.”
Mr Power said he was not “looking for heads” over the Leas Cross affair and would not comment on the employment of Mr Buckley and Mr Walsh.
The discussion followed a presentation by the author of the report of the inquiry into Leas Cross, Professor Des O’Neill, who told the committee the changes needed in response to the scandal would cost money and the State needed to be prepared to make the investment.
It was estimated it cost an average of €1,500 per week to provide a bed in a public nursing home yet the average cost private nursing homes said they were charging was €640 per week.
A study carried out in 2002 found it was not possible to provide quality care for less than €734 per bed per week yet in 2006, nursing homes in the west said they were charging as little as €495