Belfast Telegraph

Health trust silent on funds for Owen Mor Care Centre

Failings: Owen Mor Care Centre
Failings: Owen Mor Care Centre
Lisa Smyth

By Lisa Smyth

Health bosses have refused to say how much taxpayers' money they have handed to the owners of scandal-hit Owen Mor Care Centre, it can be revealed.

The Western Trust has come under fire after refusing to disclose how much cash it has paid to East Eden Ltd while the Londonderry home repeatedly failed to meet basic safety standards.

However, it can be revealed that the company's shareholders' fund increased by nearly £1m between 2018 and 2019.

According to accounts filed at Companies House, the shareholders' fund grew from £2.9m in 2018 to more than £3.8m the following year.

The trust, which is currently under enforcement action by Northern Ireland's health watchdog, has argued the figure is exempt from disclosure as it is "commercially sensitive" and has deemed it is not in the public interest to release the information.

Explaining its decision to withhold the figure, the trust said: "Release may undermine the confidence stakeholders have in the ability to work with a public authority in future processes if it is likely that pricing structures and costs are released to potential competitors."

This is despite the fact the trust revealed details of payments to another failing care home provider, Runwood Homes, in response to a separate freedom of information request last year.

It can also be revealed that the trust board has discussed Owen Mor at its public meetings on four occasions this year. However, the public was excluded on each occasion.

Aidan Hanna from NI Patient Voice said: "This is the opposite of openness and transparency.

"With nurses having to strike for better pay, the public needs to know how much money is being paid to private nursing homes, especially those which have been found to provide unsafe care."

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) carried out its first inspection of Owen Mor in July 2015, just over one month after the home opened.

A serious concerns meeting was held as a result. Earlier this year, the home was banned from admitting new residents. An application made by the RQIA to a Justice of the Peace to ensure the home met a series of basic standards said that "there will be a serious risk to a person's life, health or well-being" if the court did not take action.

The enforcement action was subsequently lifted on November 22 when the home reached compliancy.

A public body cannot apply a blanket ban to release information under section 43 (2).

In order to apply the exemption, it must first examine whether it is in the public interest to withhold or release the information requested.

A spokeswoman from the Western Trust was "unable to provide this information as it is considered commercially sensitive and is therefore exempt from release into the public domain under section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act".

She continued: "This section of the act provides that information is exempt information if its disclosure under this act would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person - including the public authority holding it."

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