Kerry mental health service: HSE chief says what happened was ‘deeply regrettable’

Leo Varadkar says it will be necessary to provide compensation to many families affected

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the HSE was fully committed to addressing the issues raised in this week's review of failings in patient care at South Kerry Camhs.

What happened in the service was “deeply regrettable, beyond comprehension and so wrong”, he told journalists at a briefing.

The review examined the treatment of more than 1,300 young people who attended the South Kerry Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs) over a four-year period. It found that hundreds of children received “risky” treatment from a doctor and significant harm was caused to 46 of them.

The risks involved in the treatment by the doctor included sleepiness, dulled feelings, slowed thinking and serious weight gain and distress, according to the review.

The review had very clearly demonstrated that some of the processes in the Camhs service were lacking or had been abandoned, and this had had a significant impact on many of the children involved and their families.

“As chief executive, I sincerely apologise for what happened over a sustained period of time. At national level, we will do all necessary in relation to the relevant audits and checks that are now required.”

The review showed organisation failures had occurred in the service around resourcing, risk management and the keeping of records. While these were not necessarily disciplinary issues, the HSE would look at all aspects, Mr Reid said.

Responding to concerns around the number of unfilled posts in psychiatry, HSE chief operating officer Anne O’Connor O’Connor said the number of trainees in the speciality has been increased, from 23 last year to 46 this year. Of these, the numbers trained in Camhs has increased from five to 13.

Compensation

Earlier, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said it will be necessary to provide compensation to many families affected by revelations of significant harm being done to children attending mental health services in south Co Kerry.

Mr Varadkar said he had “absolutely no doubt” families will bring cases forward after a review was published by the HSE on Wednesday.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil on Thursday, Mr Varadkar said he was “very disturbed” and “very worried” about what had happened both as a public representative and a doctor.

Audit

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said there will be a full nationwide audit of compliance with Camhs operational guidelines by all teams.

“I’m sure it is absolutely the case that it will be necessary to provide financial compensation to many of the families affected by this,” Mr Varadkar said.

“These are clear failings in care, clearly not up to basic professional standards so I’ve absolutely no doubt that families will bring cases forward, that they will need to be assessed and that compensation, payments will need to be made.”

The Fine Gael leader said this may be more complicated than it seems "because every case is individual" and a mechanism to do that will need to be found.

“We’ve had some initial discussion about how that can best be done and done in a sensitive way,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the failings could not be defended and should not have happened and also “should have been identified and acted on much sooner than they were”.

He said the report has been sent to the gardaí, "who may have a role in this", and also the Medical Council who have the authority to sanction medical practitioners "if that's appropriate to do so". Mr Varadkar said details of the nationwide audit would be discussed at Cabinet on Tuesday.

State apology

Mr Varadkar said the issue of a State apology to the affected families would have to be given consideration by the Government and the Taoiseach.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said there was "deep shock" about what had happened in South Kerry and "concern" amongst local people as to whether they can trust services.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty said the review's findings were "absolutely shocking" and "really troubling". The Donegal TD said children and their families had been let down and harmed by the State.

He said the failures would have consequences on the children for a long time and called for the treatment of the whistleblower involved to be examined.

“He [the whistleblower] claims he was asked to take time off and reassigned from his clinical role to admin duties. He resigned because he felt his position was undermined and that needs to be examined,” Mr Doherty said.