The health watchdog Hiqa has described claims made by a whistleblower who works in a nursing home as matters of "serious concern" and requested the HSE to carry out an investigation.
Last week, a member of staff at St Mary's nursing home in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, where 24 residents have died from Covid-19, made a protected disclosure to Health Minister Simon Harris, the CEO of the HSE Paul Reid, chief medical officer Tony Holohan, and Hiqa.
The HSE has appointed a review team with an independent chair to examine the allegations made in the 35-page dossier.
But Caoimhe Haughey, a solicitor representing the whistleblower, said a HSE-led investigation into the issues raised was "utterly unsatisfactory". She has called for the Health Minister and Hiqa to exercise discretionary powers and "properly consider" a statutory inquiry.
In a letter to Ms Haughey and her client, acknowledging receipt of the protected disclosure, Hiqa said: "The information received from you is of serious concern. We have decided to escalate this information for investigation to the HSE, which is the registered provider of this designated centre."
Responding to a request for a statutory inquiry into the issues raised, Hiqa said: "We have requested the HSE to carry out an investigation and to provide assurances as regard to the safety and welfare of residents in St Mary's.
"Any action taken by Hiqa thereafter will be informed by this response."
Ms Haughey said that she had separately received correspondence from the Health Minister acknowledging receipt of the protected disclosure and that the matter was "under consideration".
A follow-up letter from a principal officer from the Older People Projects unit, within the Department of Health, confirmed that the matter required investigation.
The letter identified the HSE as the "employer and body" under which the facility operates and "is best placed to conduct this investigation".
Ms Haughey said she intends to write again to Hiqa and the Health Minister to press them to open a statutory inquiry into what happened in St Mary's.
"This is utterly unsatisfactory," she said. "Both the minister and Hiqa have a discretion under the act to conduct a statutory inquiry.
"The criteria for that is to do with the risk to patient life and safety. There certainly was a risk to patient life and safety as outlined in the protected disclosure. I want to know has a statutory inquiry been given proper consideration by the minister and Hiqa. The HSE has no role to play in convening and conducting a statutory inquiry under section 9 of the Act. It's entirely at the discretion of the minister and Hiqa and this is a matter of huge public interest."
St Mary's is one of the worst-hit nursing homes in the country with 24 confirmed coronavirus deaths. The home is run by the HSE, has 150 beds and a separate 48-bed step-down hospital. The whistleblower has alleged that there was a failure to identify, isolate and test residents in a timely and appropriate manner during the outbreak.