Ombudsman still waiting for extra powers to investigate private nursing homes complaints

Private nursing home residents cannot complain to watchdog while those in public nursing homes can

Ombudsman still waiting for extra powers to investigate private nursing homes complaints

It is over a year since the Ombudsman sought new powers to investigate complaints in private nursing homes, it has emerged.

More than 22,000 people living in private nursing homes cannot make complaints to the independent office, but those in public nursing homes can.

It is an issue that Ombudsman Peter Tyndall has been raising since late 2013.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin, has agreed to extend the Ombudsman’s remit but it is now understood that a difference of opinion has arisen among the private nursing home sector.

At the launch of his annual report yesterday, Mr Tyndall, said payments made under the State’s nursing home support scheme – Fair Deal – went to the individual, rather than the home.

However, if private nursing homes received the funding from the HSE, they could come under the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.

“We have been having very productive discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about extending our jurisdiction and I am very hopeful that that will happen shortly,” he said.

The Ombudsman also said there was a tendency for services which were privatised or transferred to semi-state bodies, such as Irish Water, to be removed from his jurisdiction. “This is a retrograde step,” he said.

Mr Tyndall said there was no need to change redress arrangements because the service provider had been changed.

Complaints to the Ombudsman about public services increased by 11% to more than 3,500 last year.

Before people complain to the Ombudsman, they must take “reasonable steps” to resolve their complaint with the public body concerned.

Of the 1,459 complaints made against the civil service, 898 were against the Department of Social Protection, 196 against the Revenue Commissioners, 155 against the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and 58 against the Department of Justice and Equality.

Of the 900 local authority complaints, 93 were against Dublin City Council, 60 were against Limerick City and County Council, 58 against both Cork County and Galway County Councils and 52 against Wicklow County Council.

Of the 698 complaints made against the HSE, 262 were against hospitals. There were 164 complaints involving medical or GP cards.

The Ombudsman had to use his legal powers to get information relating to a complaint against Westmeath County Council and another against the HSE last year.

Mr Tyndall said he wanted his powers to be extended “as soon as possible” to deal with complaints about clinical care. He said a lot of cases were ending up in court because it was the only place to go.

The Ombudsman said he hoped that his office would soon have unambiguous, independent oversight of Direct Provision centres.

“The Direct Provision system is of great concern to us. You have children being brought up having never seen their parents cook a meal. It is entirely inappropriate. It reflects badly on us and needs to be brought to an end.”

Hospital apology after complaint

A family complained to the Ombudsman about the way their father’s body was treated following an organ retrieval process.

The man died unexpectedly at University Hospital Limerick and the family had not been contacted by the hospital, as had been promised, to let them know the remains were ready for release. The family also found the hospital had not informed the coroner of the man’s death and had to accompany a garda to identify the remains in the mortuary. When they viewed the remains, it appeared to them their father had only been covered with a sheet and had been undressed.

The family made a complaint to the ombudsman because they felt the hospital had not taken full responsibility for what had happened.

After the ombudsman intervened, the hospital introduced an information leaflet for donor families and a designated person from intensive care was appointed to liaise with families following organ donation.

The hospital’s CEO has written a further letter of apology to the family.

Complaints received by watchdog

A woman who reported her mother’s death to the Department of Social Protection was told she owed €105,000.

The department told her the money was an over-payment and she complained to the Ombudsman about it.

The woman’s mother had suffered from mental health problems before she died in 2012.

The Ombudsman found that the department did not act on information it had about the mother’s health so it was inappropriate to seek repayment from the daughter.

In another case a major acute hospital contacted the wrong woman for a medical procedure — a lumbar puncture.

After being persistently questioned by the woman, Beaumont Hospital in Dublin discovered that the correct patient had the same name and year of birth as her.

A woman who was fostered as a child complained that she was refused a grant from Student Universal Support Ireland because an aftercare allowance was not a qualifying payment.

A fostering allowance that did entitle her to a grant, but the aftercare allowance that she received after her 18th birthday did not.

The aftercare allowance is now a qualifying payment.

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