€12m HSE payout for 19,000 ex-patients and relatives

A windfall of nearly €12m is to be shared among 19,706 former long-term HSE patients, nursing home residents and bereaved relatives.

The cash was generated in interest from their private property accounts, which they gave to the HSE for safe-keeping while being cared for in homes and hospitals.

These can include bank accounts, pension books, property documents, investments or jewellery.

The HSE has been trying to identify who is eligible for the payout since last September, and they are now being contacted.

It will take around nine months for the payments to be distributed, according to a HSE report.

The HSE currently holds around €116m for more than 9,000 people in long-term care in nursing homes, disability centres or psychiatric hospitals.

These personal nest eggs generate considerable interest, which each individual is entitled to keep.

The report said: “Over the past three years, the HSE carried out a detailed exercise overseen by a small steering group to calculate and effect payment to 22,293 people or their estates.”

Since 2000, about €14.5m in interest on these private property accounts has built up.

Around 2,587 active accounts – 1,007 of which belonged to people who had died – were credited with the €2.6m in interest.

But that left another 19,706 accounts which needed to be located to distribute €11.9m in funds.

New rules governing private patient accounts were introduced a decade ago after it was found that care centres could no longer retain the interest as an administration fee for handling the financial transactions.

Centres should keep the patients’ balances at between €200 and €800. The rest should be sent to the HSE’s central unit, where it is invested in a central fund, currently with the National Treasury Management Agency.

Previous internal control reports on the management of the funds pointed to instances where there was inadequate documentation supporting withdrawals from patient accounts in the care centres.

The old health boards, which were dissolved with the creation of the HSE in 2005, had held on to the interest to help defray the cost of managing the fundings on behalf of the patients and residents.

The latest report said there was no evidence of misappropriation of the patients’ funds or evidence of fraud.

However, it said that there were a number of breaches of control identified, including occasions where documentation which should accompany a financial withdrawal was not used.

A number of care centres also did not have appropriate segregation of duties in administering these funds, due to their size and the fact it would not be economically feasible to assign additional staff. The report said a number of controls had been put in place to minimise the risk, including putting a limit of €5.1m on the amount each care centre can hold at any one time.

The central unit also monitors all individual requests of more than €500.

There report found that in 53 centres, the amount listed as being in a bank account did not correspondent with the actual balance.

The report said it would continue to address more issues.

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