Sunday 18 March 2018

Report finds HSE foster probe was 'inadequate'

Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath. Pic Tom Burke
Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath. Pic Tom Burke
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The scope of a HSE-commissioned investigation into abuse of an intellectually disabled woman in a foster home was "inadequate", a new report has found.

A senior barrister concluded that a commission of investigation would be the only way to get to the bottom of allegations that elements in the HSE sought to cover up failings in the care of the woman, known as Grace.

Conor Dignam SC found that the limited terms of reference of a 2010 inquiry commissioned by the HSE resulted in serious issues not being investigated as quickly as possible or not being investigated at all.

The barrister was also critical of the Department of Health, finding it referred protected disclosures made by two whistleblowers in 2009 back to the HSE unit which was complained about.

While this was most likely an innocent mistake, it would have been upsetting for the whistleblowers, he said.

The findings were made in a unpublished report Mr Dignam delivered to Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath last week.

Mr McGrath said the document was being studied and the terms of reference for a full commission of investigation into the controversy would be brought before Cabinet soon.

The senior counsel was asked by the department to examine the procedures and practices used by the HSE in commissioning two reviews into care at the foster home, as well as the adequacy of those reviews.

Both reviews, which have cost more than €500,000 and remain unpublished, were commissioned by the HSE following protected disclosures by social workers. The social workers discovered Grace had been left in a foster home in the southeast for 13 years after other residents had been removed due to abuse allegations. They had serious concerns about the how Grace's case was handled and the motives for some decisions made by the HSE.

The first review, commissioned from consultant ­Conal Devine in 2010, examined Grace's care, while a second one, commissioned from ­consultants Resilience Ireland in 2012, ­focused on 46 other residents of the foster home.

Mr Dignam said the narrow focus of the Devine inquiry was unfortunate.

He said it should have looked into allegations of a cover-up, concerns about the danger of a deliberate destruction of files, and claims that decisions were made in the interests of the HSE's reputation rather than in the interest of Grace.

The barrister found the initial review should also have identified other people who were placed at the foster home.

The failure to include this meant there was a delay of four years in doing so.

The HSE has denied any cover-up.

Irish Independent

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