New standards for residential homes
The residential homes of thousands of children and adults with disabilities can be inspected by the health watchdog for the first time from Friday.
Power has been given to the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) to go to the courts to close any facility which consistency fails the new standards that come in to force on November 1.
Junior health minister Kathleen Lynch described the measure as a new era for people with disabilities living in residential services.
"With these detailed standards and with guidance from Hiqa, providers are now empowered to deliver even higher quality services and with the power to inspect and investigate, Hiqa will be able to safeguard and protect people with disabilities," the minister of state for disability said.
"There is emphasis on the supports that may be necessary to ensure that the unique and complex needs of each individual person are met in an appropriate manner by service providers and their staff."
An estimated 9,500 people with disabilities live in some 1,200 residential services across the country which will be open to announced and unannounced inspections.
They must meet a range of new standards - 30 for children with disabilities and 30 for adults with disabilities - under eight themes including individualised support and care, safe services, and health and development.
The new national standards outline what the Health Service Executive, private organisations and charities must do to ensure safe and effective care is being given to people living in, or using, residential and respite services.
Health Minister Dr James Reilly said for years some of the most vulnerable citizens have not had the benefit of an inspectorate to ensure that the highest standards of care are being delivered on behalf of the State.
"This new development addresses this deficit and will be of real value to recipients and providers of care alike and as such I warmly welcome it."
All services providing residential services for people with disabilities in Ireland will have to be registered with Hiqa, whose 16 new inspectors can start visiting homes from this weekend.
Providers will also be charged to register, like nursing homes, and the first set of inspections will take three years to complete.
Inclusion Ireland said the long-awaited start of the regulation and inspection of residential services for children and adults with a disability was welcome after a 20-year campaign.
Chief Executive Paddy Connolly said Hiqa must also ensure that people living in services have information on where they can turn when standards are not met.
"It is important that people with a disability who live in services, and their families, know what the process is going forward. Information must be provided in an accessible format on the quality of service they can expect to receive, and on how they can complain if they are unhappy," he added.