HSE appoints disability activist to hear abuse claims

Kathleen Lynch announces creation of body, separate to Hiqa, to examine care centres

Leigh Gath, who describes herself as a disability activist and Thalidomide survivor, will act as a confidential recipient for whistleblowers, staff and residents, in relation to allegations of abuse in HSE-funded services for vulnerable people. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Leigh Gath, who describes herself as a disability activist and Thalidomide survivor, will act as a confidential recipient for whistleblowers, staff and residents, in relation to allegations of abuse in HSE-funded services for vulnerable people. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The Health Service Executive has appointed a prominent disability rights campaigner to act as a confidential recipient of abuse allegations in care homes.

HSE director general Tony O’Brien said Leigh Gath had agreed to take up the post, which is being created in the wake of the Áras Attracta scandal.

Ms Gath, who describes herself as disability activist and Thalidomide survivor, will act as a confidential recipient for whistleblowers, staff and residents, in relation to safeguarding issues and allegations of abuse, negligence or other mistreatment in HSE-funded services for vulnerable people.

The HSE is also tendering for advice on how covert surveillance could be carried out in residential home environments in order to guard against the type of abuse uncovered at the Co Mayo home for people with intellectual disabilities.

Separately, Minister for Primary and Social Care Kathleen Lynch has announced the creation of a body to examine residential care centres for people with intellectual disabilities.

The body, to be established immediately, will act separately from the Health Information and Quality Authority.

Both Minister Lynch and Mr O’Brien this morning addressed a meeting of more than 200 people from the residential care sector, convened by the HSE to discuss what action to take on foot of the Áras Attracta scandal.

Mr O’Brien said that without the undercover reporter and covert filming carried out for the RTÉ documentary on Áras Attracta, no-one would know what was going on there.

Thirteen staff have been suspended after the programme showed nurses and care assistants slapping, force-feeding and manhandling three residents.

Mr O’Brien pointed out that the undercover reporter had difficulty observing negative behaviour by staff and it was only when a hidden camera was placed inside a rucksack in Bungalow 3 that this was recorded.

He said the HSE would be opening its doors to advocates to ensure a repeat occurrence was avoided.

He defended the appointment of Christy Lynch of Kare to investigate the disciplinary aspects of the affair, against criticism that Mr Lynch’s business is largely funded by the HSE.

Mr O’Brien said this investigation was examining the disciplinary implications alone and was separate from the wider review which has been commissioned.

Ms Lynch told the meeting she could not guarantee similar behaviour was not going on in other areas but expressed the hope that proposals would emerge from it to strengthen oversight in the sector.