Public care homes exceeded their budgets by €55 million in 2020, and the overrun is expected to nearly double this year, according to documents provided to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) by a whistleblower.
The documents, which claim to be “neat text notes” of meetings in the civil service, allege officials discussed “critical issues” with the Nursing Home Support Scheme (NHSS), commonly known as the Fair Deal scheme.
He describes how there have been ongoing problems for six years and how a recent value for money report revealed a ‘massive cost of care problem’. This year, it is expected to exceed the budget by 107 million euros, the document suggests.
The conversation between officials describes how there are two and a half times as many nurses in public nursing homes as in private facilities, and twice as many nursing aides. They discuss the difficulties of getting staff redeployed from ‘overstaffed’ facilities, which they say has been rejected by the HSE over fears it could trigger industrial action.
They discuss efforts to bring “the HSE to the table to focus on it rather than kicking that can later”. Other documents allege One for All vouchers were being purchased for staff under the Temporary Assistance Payment Scheme, which was set up to provide financial support to care homes during Covid.
The whistleblower, Shane Corr, says he lifted the purchases – worth 12 million euros – with his line manager. It details exchanges on the matter, allegedly linked to the whistleblower, describing how payments were collected with the HSE. The whistleblower argues in his submission to the committee that HSE staff “seemed reluctant to confront and resolve the issues”.
Elsewhere in the whistleblower’s documents, officials described healthcare recruitment targets as ‘batsh*t’, and said current targets are ‘unbelievable’ and not ‘in any way realistic’ .
Mr. Corr is the same official whose revelations led to reports last year that the Department of Health maintained records of medical and educational information on children involved in pending lawsuits against the state.
In one document, an official tells another official that targets were set for recruiting “when we got all this extra money and the recruiting targets were batsh*t.” Increased budget allocations have been made to the Department of Health and HSE during the pandemic to support the hiring of additional staff.
According to the disclosure, which is presented as “neat verbatim notes” of a briefing for a senior official, a second official replies, “When you say ‘were’, are. The fact that they are realistic anyway is amazing. They then discuss the budget allocation for home support hours.
Mr Corr told the Irish Times he wanted to be invited before the health committee or the PAC to discuss his revelations. “I think it’s in the public interest, and there are a lot more.” He said he was confident he could fully substantiate his revelations.
The HSE had no comment on the documents and the Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment. The Health Committee will hear from HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid and Robert Watt, the Secretary General of the Department of Health, this week.
While members are likely to raise the issues raised, committee chairman Seán Crowe said he would keep the meeting closely on the topic of Sláintecare, the health service reform plan, for which he has been summoned. “If people ask, it will have to be on the basis of Sláintecare,” he told The Irish Times.
Róisín Shortall, the co-leader of the Social Democrats, who is a member of the health committee, said she intended to raise the documents regarding the financial management of the health service and key issues such than hiring staff.
“The first thing is to have financial responsibility, which obviously does not exist at the moment.”
Fellow party and co-leader Catherine Murphy said she expects the issue to be raised at the PAC and takes it “absolutely” seriously.
Brian Stanley, the Sinn Féin TD and chairman of the PAC, said the intention was to bring the HSE and the department back and ‘discover these issues to see what the issues are’, and would seek to explore the issues alleged in the documents.