Elderly are 'too afraid' to speak out about abuse
OLDER people are afraid to speak out about abuse by care staff because they fear losing their nursing home place, a charity working with the elderly has claimed.
The comments were made by ALONE, which has backed a request by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) for increased investigative powers.
It follows revelations in the Irish Independent earlier this week that HIQA, which is responsible for the registration and inspection of nursing homes, was unable to investigate 355 complaints it received about 213 nursing homes last year due to a deficiency in legislation.
These included complaints about deaths and alleged verbal, physical, sexual and financial abuse.
ALONE chief executive Sean Moynihan said there had been a number of serious cases since the Leas Cross scandal in 2005, with nursing homes being closed down as a result.
He said the Government should give HIQA additional powers to investigate complaints as the current system, where complainants are urged to raise their concerns with the nursing home itself, was not working.
"As individual complaints are investigated internally, older people and families may feel they can't speak out, for fear of losing their place in the home," said Mr Moynihan.
"Currently over 2,000 people are waiting for nursing home care in the country. This makes nursing homes very powerful. People need to have an impartial external body to submit complaints to. This is an industry that needs to be properly regulated to ensure it is providing quality care.
"The current system means that if someone makes a complaint, HIQA don't have entitlement to investigate it further and the individual is sent back to the nursing home they are complaining about. It leaves vulnerable older people in a very powerless situation."
HIQA received a number of contacts from relatives of nursing home residents who claimed their loved ones were discharged after complaints were made on their behalf. In a small number of cases it was alleged relatives were told they could look elsewhere if they were unhappy with the service being provided.
The matter was raised in the Dail this week by Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd, who warned Health Minister Leo Varadkar there would be a repeat of Leas Cross if HIQA was not given the additional powers it has requested.
Mr Varadkar said nursing homes were required to notify HIQA of any allegation of abuse or adverse incidents and had to have accessible and effective complaints procedures.
Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI), which represents more than 400 private and voluntary elder care facilities, said it rejected claims there was not a robust process in place to respond to complaints.
In a statement, it said nursing homes were arguably the most heavily regulated part of the Irish health sector.
The representative body said regulations and national quality standards stipulated clear requirements for all nursing homes, whether they are public, private or voluntary, in respect of the management of complaints.
"Staff in the nursing home sector care deeply about the residents they care for and, as per the regulations and national standards, are subject to rigorous regulation and inspection that is undertaken independently by HIQA," the NHI statement said.