Hiqa criticised for not passing complaints on to Garda or ombudsman

Watchdog received 4,600 complaints in 2017, including sexual and physical abuse

There were 2,566 reports of serious injuries to residents in nursing homes last year. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire

There were 2,566 reports of serious injuries to residents in nursing homes last year. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire


A person with a disability left in a comatose state after being given the wrong medicine, and carers acting aggressively towards a resident, were just two of the hundreds of complaints received by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) last year.

It received 4,600 allegations of abuse of people with disabilities in 2017, including allegations of physical, sexual and financial abuse. It also received 899 complaints alleging abuse of nursing home residents.

These figures relate to reports from care providers who are obligated to refer complaints of abuse, injury and other serious incidents to the authority.

Hiqa received another 298 unsolicited complaints, some of them anonymous, from staff, residents and relatives in relation to residential facilities for people with disabilities.

While many related to relatively minor issues, some alleged instances of sexual abuse or theft of residents’ personal belongings, according to heavily redacted documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

It received 820 unsolicited complaints relating to nursing homes, including family members having to bring elderly relatives’ colostomy bags home with them to wash and an elderly person being left alone in a room “gasping for air” with no one checking her oxygen supply.

A Hiqa spokesman said the numbers should be treated with caution, as many of the complaints have not been validated.

According to the report prepared by Hiqa, none of the unsolicited complaints concerning individual residents “required referral to other organisations”.

However, several facilities were referred on to other agencies, including the Garda, the Department of Social Protection, fire safety officers and others after complaints and inspections.

Risk assessments

Hiqa does not investigate individual complaints but instead uses them to inform risk assessments of individual facilities. All complaints received were properly and promptly processed, it said on Sunday.

The authority can take a number of actions when presented with complaints regarding individuals, including referring them to other authorities such as the Ombudsman or the Garda.

On 537 occasions Hiqa asked the operators of facilities for elderly or disabled people to provide more information on complaints or to conduct their own investigations. It also carried out 40 targeted inspections of facilities on foot of complaints.

Hiqa also cancelled the registration of three disability centres and three nursing homes and threatened others with cancellation unless conditions were improved.

The information was given by Hiqa to Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd, who yesterday said he was “shocked and appalled” by the number of complaints, especially concerning residents with disabilities.

He said that although facility inspections do take place, no one is investigating the individual complaints.

Mr O’Dowd said Hiqa must pass on serious complaints to the Ombudsman and, where appropriate, the Garda as a matter of urgency.

“I’m extremely concerned these complaints aren’t being passed on. People ring them as the regulatory agency to voice their concerns and they expect something to be done. Only one incident in 2017 was passed on to an external agency.

“I’m very unhappy with the outcomes. They’re unacceptable.”

Last month the Office of the Ombudsman told Mr O’Dowd he couldn’t believe Hiqa hadn’t passed on certain complaints of abuse of nursing home residents despite a memorandum of understanding to that effect.

Hiqa says it is currently reviewing and improving its memorandums of understanding with other agencies.

Disability centre complaints

– 4,634 allegations of abuse of residents
– 1,364 reports of serious injuries to residents
– 197 complaints of residents going missing
– 326 allegations of staff misconduct
– 99 notifications of unexpected deaths
– 57 outbreaks of notifiable diseases

Nursing home complaints

– 899 allegations of abuse of residents
– 2,566 reports of serious injuries to residents
– 182 complaints of residents going missing
– 697 notifications of unexpected deaths
– 227 outbreaks of notifiable diseases