Undercover inspectors may be sent to care homes and creches

HSE chief Tony O’Brien urges staff to ‘blow the whistle’ on any instances of abuse

HSE director general Tony O’Brien: scathing in his criticism of the abusive behaviour at Áras Attracta in Swinford. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

HSE director general Tony O’Brien: scathing in his criticism of the abusive behaviour at Áras Attracta in Swinford. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times


The Health Service Executive is considering sending undercover inspectors into creches and care homes to root out abuses by staff, according to its director general.

HSE staff who stood by while residents of a Co Mayo home for adults with intellectual disabilities were abused by their colleagues may be disciplined, Tony O’Brien has also indicated.

In a letter to senior staff about the allegations of abuse at Áras Attracta in Swinford, Mr O’Brien said he was seriously considering disciplinary procedures against such staff over their apparent inaction.

Mr O’Brien said it appeared a number of staff members, who were not directly involved in the alleged abuse but were present throughout, “merely stood by, said nothing and did nothing”.


This was a worrying aspect of culture that he thought had been long left behind in the health service. Mr O’Brien said the footage taken by an undercover reporter with RTÉ’s Investigations Unit had shocked and distressed senior HSE personnel to whom it was shown. “While not wishing to pre-empt the outcome of any investigation, I have been told that the footage portrays practices, behaviours and attitudes that are simply not acceptable in the health services and should not and will not be tolerated.”

Viewers who see the programme on Prime Time tonight would be shocked, he said, and families of the residents involved would be deeply concerned and upset. “Staff members throughout the health service I have no doubt will, like me, feel utterly disappointed and betrayed by what they will see.”

“While I may not always agree with the balance brought to health-related programmes by Primetime Investigates, it is clear that sending undercover workers/reporters into care settings has a certain value in exposing practices that otherwise may have continued for longer than it should. I have asked for the Social Care Division to discuss with me how the HSE can incorporate such an approach into our safeguarding and quality assurance process for settings where vulnerable adults and children are cared for.”

Mr O’Brien said it was even more disappointing that Áras Attracta was the subject of a recent inspection report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa). All the recommendations had been implemented and the facility received favourable reports from the authority on subsequent inspection.

“And yet the footage to be shown by RTÉ seems to indicate that unacceptable behaviour and attitudes towards residents in a unit within Áras Attracta still continued.”


Nine staff at the home have been suspended since the allegations came to light and an investigation under an independent chairman has been ordered. The gardaí are also investigating.

Mr O’Brien urged staff to “blow the whistle” on any instance of misconduct, disrespect or abuse towards residents they might witness.

Áras Attracta accommodates almost 100 people with intellectual disabilities. This followed a Hiqa report which found non-compliance with care standards.