Differing opinions over proposal to send HSE inspectors undercover into creches

Leo Varadkar says covert activities ‘has to be done’, watchdog believes move would invade people’s privacy

Minister  for Health Leo Varadkar has backed the HSE’s proposal, saying: ‘It is sad that we have to do it, but the only way to satisfy ourselves that this is not happening in other places is to have our own undercover inspections.”  Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has backed the HSE’s proposal, saying: ‘It is sad that we have to do it, but the only way to satisfy ourselves that this is not happening in other places is to have our own undercover inspections.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

A proposal to send Health Service Executive (HSE) inspectors undercover into creches and care homes to root out abuses by staff has provoked differing opinions.

The suggestion was made by HSE director general Tony O’Brien in the light of the Áras Attracta controversy. He said there was a “certain value” in using covert methods to expose practices that should not be going on.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar backed the idea: “Obviously the existing systems are not good enough. It is sad that we have to do it, but the only way to satisfy ourselves that this is not happening in other places is to have our own undercover inspections.” The Minister said that some staff groups may not like this idea but he thought “it has to be done.”

However, the State’s health watchdog, the Health Information and Quality Network (Hiqa), said it had a number of issues with the proposal. Hiqa chief executive Phelim Quinn says covert activities could impede the human rights of vulnerable individuals by invading their privacy and dignity.

Surveillance

Where it takes court action against a service provider, Hiqa has to be able to show it obtained evidence in an objective, transparent and fair way, Mr Quinn says, adding that covert surveillance is not used in any other jurisdiction.While the authority has the power to close a care home, he says this hasn’t happened yet.

There is a specific issue with HSE-run facilities like Áras Attracta because of the “limited stock” of alternative accommodation available for people with intellectual disabilities. “But, where we need to take action, we will take action.”