Hiqa pledges care home complaints will go to the Ombudsman
The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has promised it will start referring complaints about nursing homes to the Ombudsman.
It emerged that almost 700 allegations of mistreatment of residents were not forwarded by Hiqa to the independent investigator, despite a requirement for it to do so.
Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd previously revealed how no nursing home complaint was forwarded by the health watchdog to the Ombudsman over the last three years.
This was despite a memorandum of understanding between the two organisations relating to the transfer of complaints.
Deputy O'Dowd said he has spoken with Ombudsman Peter Tyndall, who in turn met with Hiqa about the referral of complaints.
"Following our meeting, the Ombudsman Mr Peter Tyndall met with Hiqa and Hiqa has now agreed to forward directly to the Office of the Ombudsman all appropriate unsolicited nursing home complaints received by them for investigation with the consent of the complainant.
"This is a very welcome development and long overdue.
"In 2017 alone there were almost 700 unsolicited complaints - some of which expressed great concern and worry at the deaths of residents, physical abuse, sexual abuse and financial abuse.
"Many of these complaints are very disturbing indeed and needed independent investigation and effective and appropriate action," Mr O'Dowd said.
He said a formal memorandum of understanding was "urgently" needed between Hiqa and the Garda "so that all possible criminal investigations arising can commence as soon as possible".
Latest figures from the health watchdog show 697 people died unexpectedly in nursing homes last year, compared to 726 the previous year.
An unexpected death is defined as one that was not anticipated or occurred earlier than expected.
Nursing homes are required by law to notify unexpected deaths to Hiqa.
In 2017 the watchdog received 4,846 notifications, including more than 200 outbreaks of notifiable diseases and 182 cases of unexpected absences of a resident from nursing homes.
There were 104 allegations of misconduct against staff members while there were 16 cases where a staff member was the subject of a review by a professional body.
Stephen McMahon, director of the Irish Patients Association, said the number of unexpected deaths are disturbing and was not receiving attention.
"We call on the Minister for Health, in the public residents' interests, to set up an independent review of these patient events that we have received from Hiqa," he said.
"What analysis has Hiqa conducted on each of these events?"