Independent expert to investigate claim Camhs whistleblower ‘sidelined’

Paul Reid says ‘absolutely not’ HSE policy to ask staff to leave after making protected disclosures

An independent expert is to be appointed to investigate claims by the whistleblower who exposed the south Kerry Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (Camhs) scandal that he was sidelined within the HSE after his revelations.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said an independent authorised person was being appointed to investigate a protected disclosure made by the whistleblower, Dr Ankur Sharma.

In January, a report found 240 children in South Kerry Camhs had received substandard care, and 46 had suffered significant harm. Dr Sharma had raised concerns about their treatment immediately on starting to work in the service in 2020.

During an appearance before the Dáil public accounts committee on Thursday, Mr Reid declined to answer questions about Dr Sharma’s claims that he was told to take time off and then placed on administrative duties after he revealed the substandard care being given to children in south Kerry.

Mr Reid told Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster that he had to respect the protected disclosure process and that the HSE was engaging with Dr Sharma about how this would proceed.

Asked whether it was HSE policy to ask whistleblowers to leave after they made disclosures, Mr Reid replied “absolutely not”. He said he had no experience of any whistleblower being “punished” for making revelations. Last year, the HSE received 60-65 protected disclosures, he said.

Review to be expanded

On foot of the report, a nationwide review of prescribing practices in Camhs services for children with ADHD is being carried out. HSE chief operating officer Anne O’Connor said the review, which will sample 50 files per unit, will be expanded to non-ADHD files at a later date.

Committee chairman Brian Stanley criticised the delay in the HSE implementing an integrated financial management system across all of its spending. The need for such a system was first highlighted in 2014, he pointed out.

The entire system will be in place by 2026, according to HSE chief financial officer Stephen Mulvany, who said a year had been lost due to Covid-19 and the cyberattack on HSE systems.

Mr Stanley said 12 years was “too long” but Mr Mulvany replied that the project was probably the biggest change project in the country at the moment” and the risks involved needed to be managed appropriately.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy likened HSE financial reports to "blancmange mixed together in a bowl" after a Comptroller & Auditor General report highlighted more than €1 billion in unaudited spending in the accounts.

Criticising the lack of “granular information” on spending, she said the failure to audit some of this was “completely unacceptable”.

Responding to questions from TDs, officials said there have been no admissions of children to adult psychiatric units so far this year.

Not fit for purpose

Committee members strongly criticised the decision to close the Owenacurra mental health centre in Midleton, Cork. The HSE has said the building is not fit for purpose and the 11 residents will be moved elsewhere.

Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan said the HSE was closing a centre of excellence which was exemplary in providing 24-hour high-provision beds. The building has "no more or less challenges" than most other buildings in this area of provision, she said.

“You’ve decided to move those 11 people 30km down the road at a cost of €1.25 million and you have no planning permission for that building.”

“The decision to close Owenacurra is absolutely contrary to national policy, and to the wishes of the residents and is part of a procurement process I have considerable questions about.”

Department of Health principal officer Seamus Hempenstall said the decision was taken by the HSE in response to findings by the Mental Health Commission and it was in the interests of the residents that they have accommodation as the building is not suitable.