Tuesday 16 July 2019

HSE apology to sex abuse victim 'lost' in translation

Health chiefs left 'Grace' in foster home for 13 years despite danger

REVIEW: Leo Varadkar
REVIEW: Leo Varadkar
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The Health Service Executive blamed a breakdown in communications for wrongly insisting that it apologised to an intellectually disabled woman who was left in a foster home for 13 years despite warnings of alleged sexual abuse.

In a detailed statement yesterday, the HSE said the apology was "lost in communication" to the staff who were intended to deliver it.

The HSE said it decided last month to apologise to the woman, known as Grace, and to the other 46 people who had been placed in the foster home at the centre of allegations of abuse. It sent registered letters that included the apology to all former residents of the foster home on December 9, but decided that the apology to Grace should be undertaken in "person" the following day.

"Unfortunately the desire to offer a formal HSE apology was lost in the communication to the staff who were to conduct the meeting." The HSE which was accused of "lying" and "misrepresentation" by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week when the social worker for Grace and her birth mother contradicted the HSE's claims that Grace had received an apology.

The debacle over the apology has placed further pressure on the HSE over its handling of the case of the fostered child.

The HSE is due before an emergency meeting of the PAC on Tuesday. HSE managers are to meet Kathleen Lynch, the minister of state responsible for mental health tomorrow.

The controversy centres on why the health authorities left the girl in a foster home for 13 years despite receiving two complaints of alleged abuse. The local health board decided to stop placing children with the foster family and in 1996 decided to remove the girl from the family's care but this decision was later "reversed". She remained there until 2009 when her case was highlighted by social workers.

The controversy escalated last week when the HSE wrongly insisted to the PAC that it had apologised to Grace on December 10 in a face-to-face meeting. A social worker and whistleblower who attended the meeting with Grace wrote to the PAC to say no official apology was offered by the disability manager and principal social worker who attended the meeting. But they had expressed sympathy.

Yesterday, the HSE said it had intended at the meet to update Grace and her mother on a report concerning her and to apologise on behalf of the HSE. "It now transpires that there was a misinterpretation of what was intended and what was actually delivered to Grace and her mother. Both staff members did offer personal comments of remorse."

When a social worker for Grace said an apology was not made, the HSE "checked locally" before it confirmed to the PAC that an apology had been offered. "However, it now transpires that the staff members concerned were referring to their own personal comments of remorse and not to an 'official apology on behalf of the HSE'."

The HSE apologised to the PAC and said it also apologised in person to Grace last week and is "acutely aware" of the failings in her care.

Yesterday the Minister for Health said the case merited "full investigation". Leo Varadkar said two reports that cannot be published for legal reasons may contain answers. He said that a review commissioned by his Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, "will establish which questions remain unanswered and how to best proceed."

Sunday Independent

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