Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall has called on the secretary general of the Department of Health Robert Watt to come before the Oireachtas Health Committee to clarify details about the State’s legal actions in relation to nursing homes.
Ms Shortall, who was a minister of State in the department in 2011, noted that she did not have any role in terms of nursing home care or long stay care as she was responsible for primary care.
Government leaders have defended the legal strategy on historic nursing home charges, dismissing claims they were involved in a State policy to deny refunds to people illegally charged for care.
Department whistleblower Shane Corr revealed details in a protected disclosure that was reported over the weekend.
Ms Shortall noted that there was seemingly “confusion” around the documents, calling for them to be published in full.
She told RTÉ’s: “There's a number of documents that are critical to this entire issue. And those documents need to be published. And we need to have an opportunity to actually see the facts involved in this.”
Ms Shortall said she was not surprised at the lack of certainty around charges generally and around legal entitlement to healthcare.
“This has been a problem for many, many decades and still remains the case within the health service, the law in relation to entitlement to care," she said.
"It talks about eligibility that people are eligible for care, but they don't have a legal entitlement.”
This had always been a grey area, she said. Sláintecare called for clarification on the legal entitlement to public health care.
“We are very unusual in this country in not having that.
“What there is, is eligibility. You can be eligible for public services, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the services are there and that there was an element of that.
"I think throughout the 2000s when there was certainly public debate on the issue in relation to who should be entitled to public health care in long term settings and who should be required to pay for them.”
Under the 1976 regulations the health service could charge people who didn't have medical cards for nursing home care.
“But we know also that in addition to that, people who had medical cards were also charged and that needed to be addressed," said Ms Shortall.
"In 2004, there was a clear direction on that. The Government then tried to subsequently legislate to charge everybody, and that was struck down in 2005. They brought in new regulations in 2006 allowing them to charge everybody, and that lasted until 2009 when the Fair Deal scheme was introduced, which provided greater certainty in relation to who had to pay and who hadn't.”
She said that the Taoiseach and the subsequent Minister for Health Simon Harris had to clarify when they were briefed about the memo.
“That's another document that we need to see.”
Ms Shortall called for a special sitting of the Oireachtas Health Committee at which the secretary general from the Department of Health, Robert Watt, and a representative from the legal section in the department “would come in and brief the health committee on all of the background to this, because there are conflicting reports on what actually happened.”
"And I think it's important that if we're going to have a debate, that the full debate and all of the information is made available and the documentation is released.
"So I think it's reasonable to leave it until next week. I think it should be early next week for the Dáil debate to take place.”