New flood of complaints revealed on care in homes for the disabled
The health watchdog Hiqa has received a complaint every second day on average about the operation of care homes for people with intellectual disabilities.
Records released by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) show major issues remain in the wake of last year's Aras Attracta scandal.
The documents, supplied to the Irish Independent under freedom of information rules, show Hiqa received 95 complaints about such care homes in the first six months of the year.
A third of these were deemed serious enough to necessitate follow-up inspections by the authority.
The complaints ranged from allegations of physical and mental abuse to poor management and hygiene standards.
In several instances the concerns were flagged by staff.
However, at least one whistleblower claimed to have suffered a backlash, having her hours cut after raising concerns for the welfare of residents.
The complaints included:
Allegations a care home resident was locked in a secure unit unknown to their family.
Instances of care home residents being "picked on" by certain staff.
Unexplained injuries, and in one case broken bones, going undetected until a resident went home for Christmas.
In another shocking case, a care home worker alleged a colleague had given a resident cigarette butts to chew on to "keep him quiet".
Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd, who has campaigned for improved standards in care homes, said some of the complaints were "simply shocking".
"These records show very little has changed. It is more of the same. Allegations of abuse, neglect and bad management.
"It is also deeply worrying that staff members who speak up find themselves being crucified for protecting the vulnerable, creating a culture of fear."
Although Hiqa receives between three and four complaints on average each week, it does not have the power to investigate specific allegations. However, it can trigger immediate inspections on the back of complaints. Of the 95 complaints made, 32 led to inspections.
One in every eight complaints led to a review of the care home's risk rating, while one in six were filed for future reference.
Eight of the complaints led to internal investigations within the care home.
The HSE put in place a six-point plan to safeguard resident safety, dignity and respect in the aftermath of the Aras Attracta scandal.
The response included the appointment of disability campaigner Leigh Gath as a confidential recipient to receive disclosures of abuse in HSE-funded services.
However, just one of the complaints made to Hiqa ended up in a referral to Ms Gath.