A further 21 cases of suspected physical or sexual assault of residents at a community nursing unit have been referred to gardaí, the HSE has said.
The referrals were made as part of investigations into the care facility after a member of staff was convicted of the rape of a resident in 2020. The resident was subsequently given the pseudonym Emily. Two separate investigations were launched following the incident, with the findings published on Wednesday.
Alongside the 21 further residents whose cases raised concern, the report has identified two incidents of suspected psychological abuse of residents. These concerns did not meet the threshold to be referred to gardaí.
The report also found that one resident’s file contained missing sections. The full file was subsequently located and no further concerns were identified.
The National Independent Review Panel (NIRP) reviewed the circumstances surrounding the assault of Emily, follow-up action of staff and governance arrangements of the care facility. The second investigation, the safeguarding review, looked at any potential further reportable incidents in relation to both current and past residents of the facility.
“The NIRP report identified a number of further residents who had alleged sexual abuse in the past, but whose complaints and allegations seem to have been attributed to their clinical condition and were therefore not reported or followed up on,” said Bernard Gloster, chief executive of the HSE.
“To ensure that we fully understand all of the issues relating to this case I have appointed an external safeguarding expert, Jackie McIlroy, to review both of these reports, conduct her own enquiries and advise me if a further examination of individual records is required to identify past harm. If she determines that a further examination is required, I have asked her to outline what period of time this should cover.
“I want to again apologise to all people affected by these events, conscious that there are many people in care facilities. We recognise the concern they and their families may have on hearing of this case.
“I want to again restate publicly our most sincere apologies to Emily’s family. In the place she should have felt most safe she came to the greatest harm. Our apology will not take away the trauma and distress both she and they have endured.”
Speaking on Wednesday to RTÉ News at One, Mr Gloster has said that there was no other way to describe the level of care at a HSE nursing home where an elderly woman was raped by a care worker, as anything other than “institutional abuse”.
“The reality is that there are many fine staff working in this nursing home and I think it’s really important to emphasise that they were very traumatised after this incident. But the culture, the informed learning, the very over medical approach to the model of care in the nursing home, all of that contributed to a situation where simply basic indicators were repeatedly missed.”
Mr Gloster said that the perpetrator had been able “to groom and manipulate the system to the point that he was able to commit this dreadful and most heinous act on an old woman who had lived her life and in the place she should have felt the most safe, she came to the greatest harm. There’s no point in us trying to resile from that in any way. It’s quite shocking.”
In response to the release of the report’s findings, the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) said it remains “deeply concerned” about the safeguarding of social workers when carry out safeguarding assessments and reviews.
“Despite the fact that the public were promised safeguarding lessons were learned in the aftermath of the Brandon report [into sustained sexual abuse of intellectually disabled residents at a HSE-run disability centre in Co Donegal], the IASW continue to receive reports from social workers in a variety of roles within the HSE who report that their expert safeguarding advice is disregarded by senior managers with less expertise, in terms of how safeguarding concerns, including reviews are handled,” said Dr Sarah Donnelly of the IASW.
“It is imperative that we now establish if the advice and guidance of the safeguarding and protection social work team was followed in the Emily case at all times by HSE Community Healthcare Organisations and national management.”
In response to the HSE announcing that Jackie McIlroy is tasked with a review of both Emily reports and to clarify if a further examination of individual records is required to identify past harm, Dr Donnelly said: “It is extraordinary and deeply concerning that over three years since the rape of a resident, the HSE is still making decisions about whether additional files of residents must now be reviewed to identify past harm.
“It remains unclear what percentage of files of residents to whom Mr Z [who was jailed for the rape of Emily] had access have been reviewed, or even if the files of all residents living in the home in 2020 have been reviewed.”
Anyone affected by this story and concerned about sexual assault please contact the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre at 1800 77 88 88.