A State legal strategy for dealing with people who were overcharged for nursing home care was kept among a tight-knit group, according to the Social Democrats co-leader.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Róisín Shortall said she did not know about the strategy when she was a junior minister in the department of health.
Deputy Shortall held the position as a Labour TD for 18 months from 2011 to 2012.
“My responsibility was for primary care,” she told Pat. “I was minister of state for primary care.
“So, I wasn’t involved at all in relation to long-term care or nursing home care or hospitals or anything like that.
“It certainly seems that the memo that we’ve read about now was agreed by a very small number of senior ministers.
“Obviously, it was brought by then-Minister for Health James Reilly and then it was the four senior ministers in the Government of the time who seemed to sign off on this.
“So, it was kept very tight it would appear.”
She noted that the allegation facing the current Government is that subsequent ministers for health were briefed on the strategy upon taking office.
The Government yesterday confirmed that there was a legal strategy for dealing with people wrongly charged for nursing home care.
It said the strategy was in place before 2011 and was “pursued by successive governments” – but insisted it had been “misrepresented” in the media.
Yesterday meanwhile, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who served as Minister for Health between 2014 and 2016, told Pat Kenny that he was “never party to devising or agreeing a legal strategy in relation to nursing home charges”.
Deputy Shortall said the approach “seems to be a fairly common strategy that is pursued by Government in relation to a whole lot of different cases”.
“That doesn’t make it right of course,” she said.
“The general advice seems to be, fight this as hard as you can, keep cases out of court and reduce exposure.
“Now it seems that no minister involved in this and you know, there were those five original ones and then subsequently – no minister actually stopped to say, is this fair?
“Why are we treating people with very low incomes in this manner?
“Why are we going after them when we should have been providing public nursing home care for people when they needed it.
“Unfortunately, that kind of approach to healthcare continues to this day.”
Over the weekend, a whistle-blower speaking to the Mail on Sunday, claimed that the Government was running a secret strategy aimed at limiting payouts to people who were wrongly charged for nursing homes.
The cases relate to families of people who were illegally charged for nursing home stays from the 1970s until late 2000s.
Whistle-blower Shane Corr alleged that multiple government’s pursued the strategy to prevent pay-outs totalling a possible €12 billion.
In its statement, the Government said its strategy was to defend the cases relating to private nursing homes on several grounds.
“In particular that medical card holders did not have an unqualified entitlement to free private nursing home care,” it said.
“A limited number of individual cases were settled where there were complicating factors. No case ever proceeded to a hearing.
“In the case of public nursing homes, a scheme was put in place and €480 million was paid to former residents or their families.”
It said the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has now sought advice from the Attorney General and a detailed briefing from his own department.