Elderly can recover illegal charges - Court

Nursing home patients who were charged illegally for their care over a 30-year period, will be entitled to sue the State to recover the money, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The ruling was made in relation to the Health Amendment Bill, which had been drawn up by the Government last year, after it received advice from the Attorney General that charges imposed on medical card patients in State-run homes were illegal.

The controversial bill would have retrospectively legalised these charges, ensuring that the Government could not be sued by any patients who had been subject to them. However the bill was referred to the Supreme Court by President Mary McAleese in December.

The Court ruled that provisions in the Bill to impose such charges on patients in the future were constitutional. However it also ruled that stopping patients from trying to recover money that had been taken from them illegally was unconstitutional.

Because certain sections of the Bill are 'repugnant', the Bill in its entirety fails.

Commenting on the ruling, the Labour Party said that it came as no surprise.

"This decision is a stinging rebuke from the highest court in the land to the approach of the Health Minister to this entire issue. Her meagre offer of a payment of up to €2,000 to compensate for the gross breach of the constitutional rights, was an insult to elderly and vulnerable citizens", said the party's health spokesperson, Liz McManus.

In a recent irishhealth.com poll on the issue, 89% of people said that the Government should pay back all it owes to nursing home patients.

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