Hiqa raised concerns over Covid-19 testing at Sunbeam House centre

Ten out of 12 residents in one centre tested positive for Covid-19 in January outbreak

Three residents with intellectual disabilities died following outbreaks in two Co Wicklow centres run by Sunbeam House Services in January. Photograph: iStock

The State’s healthcare regulator said it was “not assured” a charity running residential centres for people with disabilities had “effective” coronavirus testing measures in place, following a recent outbreak.

Three residents with intellectual disabilities died following outbreaks in two Co Wicklow centres run by Sunbeam House Services in January.

In one of the centres, 10 of the 12 residents tested positive for the virus. Some 30 staff were on leave at the time, as confirmed cases or close contacts.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) raised concerns over Covid-19 testing measures in a January 22nd email to Sunbeam House.


The correspondence said Hiqa was “not assured” that Sunbeam “has efficient and effective Covid-19 testing systems within their organisation”.

The regulator had received unsolicited information criticising alleged delays in testing staff working in the centre during the outbreak. It is understood staff also had concerns around the lack of initial isolation measures for residents with coronavirus symptoms.

Mass screening to test all staff working in the centre had been ordered following the outbreak, to identify any further cases.

The tip sent to Hiqa claimed staff had attended for tests, “but did not receive their testing in a timely manner and some staff were not tested, despite waiting a considerable period of time”.

Testing arrangements

Hiqa told the disability provider to review its testing arrangements, and “make improvements to the current system to ensure staff receive Covid-19 screening in an efficient and timely manner”, the email said.

The correspondence was released to The Irish Times following a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a statement, Joe Lynch, Sunbeam House chief executive, confirmed "that there were some delays in the testing at a serial screening session at one of our centres in Wicklow".

The disability provider had issued a detailed response to Hiqa to address the concerns raised, he said.

“The main reasons for the delay related to staff turning up, who were not scheduled, and not making the most efficient use of specialist testers on the day,” Mr Lynch said.

“These matters have since been addressed and resolved, and thankfully our service is now free of Covid-19,” he said.

Internal investigation

Major concerns around care standards, governance, and finances at Sunbeam House were raised in a detailed Irish Times report in recent weeks.

The report revealed a woman with an intellectual disability was “unlawfully” restrained repeatedly while in the care of the charity in 2017.

It also outlined an unpublished internal investigation had found an “institutional” approach to care in one of its residential centres, as well as concerns raised by Hiqa in 2019 about the “overall fitness of the provider” to run services.

It is understood the mother of the woman unlawfully restrained is seeking legal advice to look at taking a case against the charity.

In a letter sent to families in recent weeks, Sunbeam House said it had “undoubtedly faced numerous challenges in the past, which are now behind us”. The organisation said the article related to matters dating between 2015 and 2018.

However, Sunbeam House Family Advocacy Group said it had been “unaware” of many of the issues raised, which had caused “great distress and upset” to the families of residents.

The details of the media report “make for sad reading” and had caused further “trust issues” between families and the charity, the group said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times