Minister Harney Announces Publication of Health Bill 2006
Mary Harney, TD, Minister for Health and Children today announced the publication of the Health Bill 2006 which provides for the establishment of the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) incorporating a new and independent inspectorate and registration authority for residential services.
The Minister said, "This Bill is a central part of the health reform programme. We are getting tough on setting standards and tough on enforcing standards. An independent organisation with teeth is now being created."
The Bill places the Social Services Inspectorate on a statutory basis and provides for its expansion to inspect and register residential services for people with disabilities and older people. This replaces and strengthens current inspection and registration arrangements. For the first time, there will be a fully independent inspectorate for all nursing homes both public and private, as well as for centres for people with disabilities and children.
There will also be clearer procedures to close a centre if its continued operation poses a risk to the health or welfare of residents, including an explicit procedure for an immediate or urgent closure of a centre.
The Minister said, "My purpose is to ensure that the standards set are applied consistently and on a national basis and that, where necessary, action can be taken quickly and effectively to protect service users. The Government have also agreed to bring forward a provision at Committee Stage to protect whistleblowers."
In last week's Budget announcement of additional funding for health, €4m additional funds were provided to enable Health Information and Quality Authority to begin its role and increase inspections.
Health Information and Quality Authority's Functions
The Bill sets out interim Health Information and Quality Authority's functions as:
- Setting and monitoring standards on safety and quality in health and personal social services provided by the Health Service Executive (HSE) or on behalf of the HSE and advising the Minister and the HSE on the level of compliance with those standards
- Carrying out reviews to ensure the best outcomes for resources available to the HSE
- Carrying out assessments of health technologies
- Evaluating information on health and social services and the health and welfare of the population and advising the Minister and the HSE on deficiencies identified
- Setting information standards and monitoring compliance with those standards
- Undertaking investigations as to the safety, quality and standards of services where the Minister believes that there is serious risk to the health or welfare of a person receiving services
In monitoring standards, Health Information and Quality Authority will have strong powers, including the power to enter and inspect premises, access documents, and interview staff.
Office of the Chief Inspector of Social Services
The Bill establishes the Office of the Chief Inspector of Social Services within Health Information and Quality Authority, with specific statutory functions. The Minister said that "the Bill meets commitments in the Health Strategy, Quality and Fairness and the Social Partnership Agreement Towards 2016 to put the Social Services Inspectorate on a statutory basis and extend its remit from children to residential services for people with disabilities and older people."
The Chief Inspector is responsible for:
- Inspecting residential services for children in need of care and protection, people with a disability and older people, including private nursing homes. Inspections will be carried out against standards set by Health Information and Quality Authority and regulations made by the Minister
- Registering these residential services
- Inspecting special care units
- Monitoring the delivery by the HSE of foster care services, the scheme for boarding out of older people and the HSE's pre-school inspection system
"Inspections will be carried out against standards set by Health Information and Quality Authority and Ministerial regulations. These will cover areas such as accommodation, qualifications and numbers of employees, food and records, etc. If the Chief Inspector is not satisfied that a residential centre meets the relevant standards, the centre will not be registered and won't be able to operate. If the Chief Inspector considers that a registered centre fails at some stage to comply with standards, the registration will be cancelled. Penalties have been strengthened under the Act fines up to €5,000 (up from €1,000) or imprisonment up to 12 months (up from 3 months), or both, for summary offences; and fines of up to summary offences; and fines of up 70,000 or imprisonment of up to 2 years, or both, for conviction on indictment."
The Minister said she was confident that Health Information and Quality Authority would provide a strong watchdog to protect those in residential care settings. She said the new legislation marked a key element of the new scheme for funding private nursing home care for the elderly which she announced earlier this week.