Hiqa chief says Áras Attracta documentary depicts ‘evil acts’

Minister of State Kathleen Lynch ‘shocked and distressed’ by poor standards of care

A documentary showing staff mistreating residents at a Co Mayo centre for adults with intellectual disabilities depicts “evil acts”, according to Phelim Quinn, the chief executive of the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) . Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

A documentary showing staff mistreating residents at a Co Mayo centre for adults with intellectual disabilities depicts “evil acts”, according to Phelim Quinn, the chief executive of the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) . Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

A documentary showing staff mistreating residents at a Co Mayo centre for adults with intellectual disabilities depicts “evil acts”, the chief executive of the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has said.

Phelim Quinn denied Hiqa, which is responsible for monitoring standards in such facilities, had failed in the case of Áras Attracta but said he was “appalled” such behaviour could occur in a centre housing “probably some of the most vulnerable in our society”.

The RTÉ documentary about the centre in Swinford, Co Mayo, shows scenes of vulnerable female residents being force-fed, slapped, roughly handled, abused and compelled to stay in a chair for hours on end.

Nine staff at the home have been suspended as a result of the conduct, which was secretly filmed by an undercover journalist for the RTÉ Investigations Unit.

Mr Quinn said Hiqa had in February raised concerns about the standard of care at the home and described it as “verging on abusive” in a report.

He said the HSE, the primary care provider, subsequently put in new management arrangements and convinced Hiqa the systems in place ensured better protection for residents.

There might have been an initial response by HSE but it was not “sustained” and did necessarily extend to “all elements of that service”, Mr Quinn told RTÉ Morning Ireland.

The training for staff was in place but he believed adequate assessment of the impact of that training was not.

Mr Quinn added: “The key issue for us as an inspectorate is that we when we are there will never see staff behaving like that. The way in which those sorts of things can be detected is when good systems are in place - supervision systems, good training and the assessment of the impact of that training.”

He said the documentary showed “evil acts behind closed doors” that no inspector would be able to see.

“I believe there were people there who probably witnessed these sorts of behaviours and we need to encourage people absolutely to tell others about what it is they are witnessing so that these sorts of behaviours can be stopped.”

HSE director general Tony O’Brien has proposed sending inspectors undercover into creches and care homes to root out abuses by staff. Minister for Health Leo Varadkar backed the idea but said “it is sad that we have to do it”.

Mr Quinn said he would not rule out such a move and said he agreed with the practice if it was done in a dignified manner.

Minister of State for Primary Care Kathleen Lynch said she was “shocked and distressed” by the “extremely poor and unacceptable standards of care and mistreatment of vulnerable residents in Áras Attracta”.

“Every person who uses disability services is entitled to expect and receive supports of the highest standard and to live in an atmosphere of safety and care,” she said.

Ms Lynch said the allegations were very disturbing and needed to be fully investigated. She welcomed the immediate response of the HSE to alert gardaí and Hiqa and the decision to put a number of staff off-duty while the allegations are being investigated.

She said she had been fully briefed by the HSE and requested “all appropriate resources should be put in place to ensure that the safety and care of residents at Áras Attracta is maintained at the highest possible standard”.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation described the programme as harrowing and said members of its registered nurse in intellectual disability section were meeting for professional development and training in Dublin.