Ombudsman criticises lack of haste in dealing with institutional victims

Outgoing Ombudsman calls for urgent response to plight of under-65s in nursing homes

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said there was a problem with the lack of data on people aged under 65 living in nursing homes. Photograph: Alan Betson

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said there was a problem with the lack of data on people aged under 65 living in nursing homes. Photograph: Alan Betson


Outgoing Ombudsman Peter Tyndall has attacked Ireland’s lack of “haste” in dealing with victims of institutionalisation.

Before he retires after eight years in the role, Mr Tyndall said the absence of speed in helping those confined to Magdalene laundries, direct provision as well as younger people forced to live in nursing homes was a theme throughout his time in office.

Speaking before an Oireachtas committee about more than 1,300 people aged under 65 in nursing homes, some without having given informed consent, he called for an urgent response to their plight.

“As Ombudsman, much of the work of my office has been dealing with matters of institutionalisation and congregation,” he said.

“Whether it was the consequences of Magdalene laundries and the redress scheme or direct provision or, as in this case, the situation of younger people in nursing homes, it has been a theme throughout, and it seems to me we are seeing welcome progress but not necessarily haste.”

Last month, Mr Tyndall published a report – Wasted Lives – about younger people confined, because of injuries or illnesses, to unsuitable nursing homes designed for older people.

“One of the people we met during the investigation said that he had wasted the best years of his life in an institution,” he told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Disability Matters.

“Another, who had suffered his injuries in an assault, said the person convicted would one day leave prison – he had no prospect of leaving the nursing home.”

Mr Tyndall said the official figure of 1,342 younger people living in nursing homes was likely to be higher, as it does not include those paying for themselves or others not being supported by the Fair Deal scheme.

They are people “who don’t want to be there, in services clearly not designed for them”, he told TDs and senators.

For the investigation, Mr Tyndall interviewed 28 people affected. Four have since died and there are “others who my office can’t contact”.

“I think that emphasises the need for urgency in addressing the issues raised,” he said.

“We need to stop further people being admitted against their will.”

Mr Tyndall said an urgent, two-pronged response was needed to immediately help improve the quality of lives for those impacted while making preparations to move them into more suitable accommodation in the community.

The Ombudsman said there was a problem with the lack of data on those involved because once they are admitted they are “essentially off the books, there is no one in the system whose responsibility they are”.

Pilot project

Kathleen McLellan, assistant secretary at the Department of Health, told the committee €3 million has been allocated for a pilot project to rehouse just 18 of the more than 1,300 people this year.

There was also a “mapping exercise” under way to identify and assess their needs.

Ms McLellan said the department would “learn” from the pilot project and it expected to increase the numbers being moved out of nursing homes next year.

“It is important to get this right,” she said, adding that it “takes time” to work with individuals on how they want to live.

Responding to criticism from Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns, Ms McLellan said she wanted to assure the committee of “the urgency, the seriousness and priority” the department was taking in dealing with the cases.

Ms Cairns said the language of the department over the issue didn’t “reflect the seriousness” of it and “nor is there an apology to the people affected”.

The Cork South West TD said the pilot project of 18 people accounted for less than 2 per cent of those known to be affected, and “more concrete assurances” were needed that the Government was “responding with the immediacy required”.

The committee “rejects” the Government’s approach and calls on it to deal with a lot more cases, Ms Cairns added.

“We know – we don’t need to learn – that we can’t leave people in these settings any longer,” she said.

“The urgency needs to be placed on getting more people out of these congregated settings, rather than doing a pilot project on 18 people.

“We know this isn’t suitable, we don’t need to pilot that. We need a much more urgent approach in relation to the actual numbers of people living in congregated settings.”