Simon Harris backs families over disability service allegations

Sunbeam House Services accused of abuse and neglect by clients’ relatives

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he wants to see ‘every action and recommendation’ in the Jeyes report ‘acted on with great urgency’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he wants to see ‘every action and recommendation’ in the Jeyes report ‘acted on with great urgency’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris says he “believes the families” who have made “extraordinarily serious” allegations about care failings at a service for adults with intellectual disabilities.

He says he will meet families whose loved ones attend Sunbeam House Services (SHS) in Co Wicklow, next week.

SHS, which delivers day and residential services to over 400 vulnerable adults at 28 centres, faces a raft of allegations of financial, physical and sexual abuse, as well as neglect.

The Minister is also due to meet the HSE in coming days about findings in a quality assurance report it commissioned on SHS.

The report team chaired by former Tusla chief executive, Gordon Jeyes found a “deteriorating relationship” between clients’ families and management, serious allegations of abuse, inadequate safeguarding protocols and mishandling of complaints.

Though removed from the HSE website days after publication on March 11th, it has been seen by The Irish Times.

It says that between January 2013 and September 2016 there had been 284 complaints to the HSE about SHS, 231 of which required a formal investigation.

Safeguarding concerns

Between December 2015 and October 2016 there were 33 serious safeguarding concerns, 13 of which related to alleged physical abuse, five to alleged sexual abuse, seven to alleged psychological abuse, one to alleged financial abuse, five to alleged neglect and two to alleged institutional abuse.

The report finds the SHS complaints policy is “not fit for purpose” while SHS’s approach when responding to upheld complaints was to do so “with little expression of regret or apology”.

“The review team’s capacity to [examine matters] was inhibited by an over-enthusiastic approach to redaction by Sunbeam House Service, rendering the provision of a considerable volume of documentation unhelpful,” says the report.

A number of families have contacted The Irish Times about their concerns.

Among concerns raised are a male resident allegedly “overdosed” with prescribed medication; a female resident allegedly allowed to leave the premises without important anti-convulsant medicine, putting her at serious risk of death; allegations of physical abuse; a male resident allegedly left unattended to run his own bath, who flooded his residence: no one noticed until his parents visited days later.

The Jeyes review makes 17 recommendations, including that SHS request temporary additional external management from the HSE, that a protected disclosure policy be implemented within three months, and that safeguarding training be agreed with the HSE within a month.

‘Extraordinarily serious’

Speaking on East Coast Radio on Friday, Mr Harris said many SHS parents had come to him in recent years.

“I believe those parents. I’ve met those parents . . . Some of the concerns are extraordinarily serious. I want to work with the parents to make sure that they get answers . . . to make sure their children get the service that they deserve.”

He said he wanted to see “every action and recommendation” in the Jeyes report “acted on with great urgency”.

John Hannigan, chief executive of SHS, said all allegations of abuse received “the highest amount of attention . . . There is a zero-tolerance in SHS in respect of abuse”.

He said SHS welcomed the Jeyes review, accepted its recommendations and would work “tirelessly to bring about the level of change required to raise standards in our organisation”.

“We have apologised in full for any upset and hurt that has arisen due to the matters that have been raised in the review. We are determined our systems will benefit from the changes we are implementing.”

A spokeswoman said the HSE, which will provide €24.2 million to SHS this year, was considering the response provided to the Jeyes review.

The HSE would “be setting out clear, robust and timebound measures to ensure the recommendations are comprehensively implemented”.