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Plans for cameras at care homes are ruled out

THE health service has abandoned plans for placing surveillance cameras and undercover workers in care homes.

The U-turn comes just a month after both ideas were floated by HSE director general Tony O'Brien, amid the fall out from the Aras Attracta affair.

The HSE suspended a dozen staff at the home for people with disabilities in Swinford, Co Mayo pending an investigation.

Abusive practices such as force feeding, slapping, physical restraint and psychological abuse were exposed after an undercover researcher working for RTE secretly filmed at the facility.

In a letter to staff ahead of the footage being broadcast, Mr O'Brien said sending undercover workers into care settings "has a certain value" and revealed he had asked the HSE's social care division to examine how the approach could be used.

He later said the HSE would also investigate the possibility of using covert cameras, an idea backed by Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch.

However, it now appears neither initiative will be coming into force.

In a statement to the Irish Independent, the HSE said: "Currently it is the view that the installation of cameras in residential facilities would impinge on the privacy of residents.

"Therefore the HSE has not progressed the suggestions that cameras or undercover reporters be used in care homes."

The statement added that the suggestions would be kept "under review".

The footage shot at Aras Attracta is being examined as part of a garda investigation.

Although the covert camera and undercover worker initiatives are not happening, the HSE said it had moved ahead with other measures to safeguard residents in care homes for the elderly and the disabled.

Under national policy procedures introduced last month, all service providers have to appoint a "designated officer" to receive complaints.

They have responsibility for ensuring appropriate managers are informed and necessary actions are taken in response to a complaint.

They must also ensure that all reporting obligations are met.

The alleged failure of care homes to properly respond to complaints has been a feature of concerns raised by care workers, residents and their relations in recent years.

The Department of Health said it was currently examining proposed legislation drafted by Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd, which would expand the role of the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) and allow it to conduct investigations of specific complaints.

Although HIQA has the power to take complaints into consideration when carrying out inspections, it is not allowed to investigate specific complaints.

Around 700 complaints about care homes received by HIQA over the past two years are currently being examined by gardai.

Irish Independent