By Ailbhe Conneely - RTE News - 22.09.2023 - [IRELAND] - [Mr. Z] An external expert that led a team of social workers as part of a review of the nursing home at the centre of the 'Emily case', has said that the HSE shut down the review after the team raised concerns about more potential victims.
In October 2020, Marcella Leonard who is based in Northern Ireland was hired by the HSE to lead a review of residents' files at the home, following the sexual assault of one of them known as 'Emily', six months earlier.
A HSE worker known as 'Mr Z' was arrested and convicted for the assault.
The safeguarding team under Marcella Leonard was tasked with reviewing the files of other residents to see if there could possibly be further victims.
Ms Leonard told RTÉ News that due to the emergence of "so much evidence", the team sent an interim report to the HSE in April 2021, to give it "a very clear message".
The team stated that the review was uncovering "systemic evidence" that Mr Z had harmed more than one person.
"So rather than providing the team with more resources, rather than providing the team with more support, rather than providing and sitting with the team and saying 'what else do you need in order to continue to review the rest of the files?' That time was taken up with trying to get through as many files as we could before the HSE shut us down," she said. Ms Leonard said there were wider implications for those involved in the review.
"The impact on the families, the impact on the social workers who undertook this review and the resulting shutting down of that by the HSE and the resulting delay in their report being accepted and not being allowed to continue their work, has caused untold stress and distress. And that that should never have happened," she said.
Asked why the review was shut down, the HSE CEO Bernard Gloster said there were "a lot of views about that".
Speaking on RTÉ's Six One news he pointed out that he was not in his current position, however he added that there was no indication given to him that anyone malevolently wished to suppress anything.
HSE to review between 350 and 400 resident files
The HSE is to undertake a review of all nursing home residents' files where Mr Z worked.
In July this year, Mr Gloster requested safeguarding expert Jackie McIlroy to review a report by the National Independent Review Panel (NIRP) into the rape of the resident known as 'Emily'.
Ms McIlroy was also asked to assess the work of a separate safeguarding review team that was tasked with examining 79 residents' files by November 2021.
In order to meet that timeframe, the safeguarding team reviewed the files of 32 residents in this group which resulted in a referral to An Garda Síochána outlining safeguarding concerns in the case of 21 of these 32 residents' files.
The report by Jackie McIlroy has described the decision not to review the remaining files of the group of 79 residents as "a missed opportunity".
The HSE has said that it "absolutely accepts" Ms McIlroy's view on this, and her recommendation that a further investigation of residents' files is undertaken to cover the period of Mr Z’s employment.
"We are currently developing a process to undertake this review and intend to write to the families of all residents at this unit during the period of Mr Z’s employment. We intend to do this in collaboration with residents or where appropriate their next of kin," according to Mr Gloster.
Ms Leonard described Ms McIlroy's report as "a complete validation and vindication for the team".
"This (the McIlroy Report) was a vindication of their work, but also for myself as an expert consultant who was brought in," she said.
"I will always go back to the fact - what does it say about an organisation that, as their social workers, their own social workers, were doing an incredibly good job and they were finding more and more evidence - rather than providing that team with more support to continue to find the evidence, they actually shut them down.
"So for me, it's not about a confidence in asking will the next review work. I think there still has to be questions as to why (the review) was shut down in the first place.
"But what I will do is ask that the review has the same trauma informed approach that I know that the social workers who did the job with me applied and therefore took a very cautious approach so as to not to cause more harm by their review," said Ms Leonard.
Mr Gloster said the HSE recognised how "difficult and distressing this will be for families" adding that the HSE is "committed to undertaking this process as sensitively and compassionately as possible, fully respecting the wishes of individual families".
Speaking on RTÉ's Six One programme this evening, Mr Gloster said between 350 and 400 resident files will be reviewed.
The Irish Association of Social Workers welcomed Jackie McIlroy's report, saying it fully supports her recommendations.
The IASW said the report vindicates the work of the safeguarding social work team in the Emily case.
"Expert social work advice was ignored in the Brandon case and now again in the Emily case. Adults at risk of abuse are paying the price for poor oversight of safeguarding at both local and national level in the HSE," the group said.
It added that it was now up to the HSE to "explain how within current structures, it will prevent managers with less expertise overriding expert social work recommendations".
IASW said it welcomes HSE chief Bernard Gloster's "genuine commitment to reviewing safeguarding structures". If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Dignity4Patients, whose helpline is open Monday to Thursday 10am to 4pm.