Maeve Sheehan – Irish Independent - 17.09.2023 The Community Health Office (CHO) responsible for the HSE nursing home where an elderly resident was raped by a healthcare worker took issue with some of the content of the investigation into the incident — known as the Emily report — before it was published.
The 73-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease, given the pseudonym Emily, was raped by a worker who was on night duty during the Covid-19 lockdown. A governance report on the incident found several other residents had also alleged they were sexually abused. However, unlike Emily, they were not believed. Their complaints were attributed to dementia or confusion and were never reported or followed up.
The report, by the National Independent Review Panel (NIRP), was published in July.
According to internal HSE correspondence, the CHO had issues with the content of the NIRP report, and raised concerns with the HSE’s national director of patient safety Dr Orla Healy before the final report was accepted.
The letter from the HSE’s national director of community operations, Yvonne O’Neill, said that “notwithstanding these concerns regarding some of the NIRP report content” raised by the CHO office concerned, this did not impact on the progressing of the recommendations in the document.
The CHO had previously clashed with social workers who were asked to conduct a safeguarding review to find out whether other residents were also harmed.
An independent safeguarding expert hired by the HSE to oversee the review said social workers were told to stop their investigation when they were less than halfway through the resident’s files.
Marcella Leonard said social workers had uncovered 21 cases of sexual and physical abuse when they came under pressure from the HSE to wrap up their investigation. The HSE later said that this was because the investigation was taking too long.
In her letter, Yvonne O’Neill, a member of the HSE’s top leadership team, criticised the failure to approve investment in safeguarding — the protection of vulnerable people from abuse or neglect in the health service. She said that despite her requests, investment in “safeguarding” was not approved.
As a result, safeguarding operations will “continue to be significantly challenged”, even when the new Regional Health Areas are introduced later this year, she said. She had insisted that the “continued under-resourcing” of safeguarding be highlighted in the HSE’s national service plan.
“Regrettably, despite successive years of requesting investment in safeguarding, no ring-fenced investment has been received, save for a small amount via the Expert Panel on Nursing Homes,” she wrote.
She said Community Operations sought to fund additional social work posts through “any means available”. Further investment is needed and had been requested but “was not secured”, she wrote. Ms O’Neill said what happened to Emily is a source of “sincere regret and sadness”.
“Our fundamental approach is to prevent such sexual assaults occurring. In a nursing home context, this requires not only the operation of the safeguarding policy but effective recruitment, vetting, nursing management and nursing care planning,” she added.
The HSE was contacted for comment about the nature of the CHO’s concerns.
A HSE statement said that the references in the letter to investment in safeguarding related to previous years and additional social work posts have been added to safeguarding teams more recently. 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.