Wednesday 21 February 2018

Whistleblower to meet HSE boss this week

Controversial comment: HSE chief Tony O’Brien. Photo: Tom Burke
Controversial comment: HSE chief Tony O’Brien. Photo: Tom Burke
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The whistleblower who exposed how the Health Service Executive failed to protect an intellectually disabled woman from alleged sexual and physical abuse in a foster home will meet the head of the HSE this week, seven years after she first tried to highlight the scandal.

Tony O'Brien will meet the whistleblower - a social worker - to discuss the failings in her case and the care of vulnerable adults like her.

It comes after weeks of scathing criticism of the HSE's handling of Grace's case and by the treatment of the whistleblowers by the Dail Public Accounts Committee.

The whistleblower has spent years trying to highlight Grace's case and met Health Minister Leo Varadkar and the junior minister, Kathleen Lynch, last year.

Grace, who cannot speak, was allowed to remain in the foster home by the health authorities despite suspicions of sexual and physical abuse.

When allegations of sexual abuse were made by a former resident in 1995, the health authorities decided to place no more children there. A decision was also made to remove Grace from the family but this was "countermanded" by a three-person panel of health board employees.

The foster family wrote to the then health minister, Michael Noonan, in a bid to keep Grace. A spokesman said neither Mr Noonan nor the Minister of State "sought to direct or influence the decision of the health board in any way".

She remained with the family for 13 years until she was removed in 2009. She had little or no contact with social workers.

John Deasy, the Waterford TD for Fine Gael, told PAC that a senior social worker came across Grace's case in 2007 but "was ignored" by "HSE management". This social worker, and two others, then made "protected disclosures" under whistleblower legislation to raise concerns about Grace's care. Allegations of financial abuse were also raised. The foster family took in "€70,000" in allowances for Grace, PAC chairman John McGuinness claimed last week. Other carers' allowances would have been available when the foster allowance stopped on Grace turning 18.

The woman who ran the foster home said allegations that children suffered serious sexual abuse in the house were "lies" in the Irish Times yesterday.

The HSE commissioned two external reports that cannot be published because of ongoing garda investigations. The health minister and junior minister received copies of the reports last week, after invoking Section 40C of the Health Act 2004.

The HSE has apologised to Grace and the other 47 people who passed through the foster service.

The Government has agreed to set up a Commission of Inquiry to find out what happened. Minister Varadkar told the Dail last week that there were conflicting accounts of what happened and the whistleblowers were "not aligned" in what they were saying.

It also emerged last week that a second woman, Ann, was privately placed with the foster family until 2014. The HSE said it could not inform her mother of investigation into alleged sexual abuse on legal advice.

Sunday Independent

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