Mother in provision 'locked into her room'

Stephen Donnelly. Picture: Frank McGrath

Maeve Sheehan

A mother in a direct provision centre claimed she was locked into her room without food or access to care during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic while waiting to be moved to Health Service Executive (HSE) isolation centre.

The mother said she phoned the HSE, which in turn contacted the management of the direct provision centre, in order to have food delivered to her room.

Her experience was one of several allegations of hostile management and allegedly discriminatory treatment described by residents of some direct provision centres which will be shared with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on Tuesday.

The complaints were outlined at a Zoom meeting with some residents of direct provision centres and voluntary groups supporting them. It was organised by the Irish Patients' Association (IPA) last week.

A report of the meeting highlights residents' complaints that they were not "properly educated" about Covid-19 until after the outbreak had occurred.

"Residents discussed their experiences of hostility and deprivation, particularly during the Covid-19 outbreak," the report said.

Residents who tested Covid-19 positive shared their experiences of being "stigmatised", as a result of being transferred out of the centre to self-isolate.

Feelings of discrimination and being treated differently were recurring concerns, according to the report of the meeting.

"A resident with her first baby talked about how she became quite anxious during Covid-19 outbreak in direct provision.

"She shared an experience of attending an appointment at a Dublin maternity hospital. She sat in the queue and watched everyone come and go, particularly those that came after her. 'They all get seen before me while I sat in the waiting area for two hours waiting to be seen and my taxi waiting outside'."

Residents reported difficulties in accessing primary care such as GPs and said some centres could only arrange medical appointments through direct provision centre staff.

One woman resident reported: "We must go through the receptionist to contact a GP, and we must explain to them - the receptionist - the reason why a GP appointment is required, thereby disclosing our private health issues we may not want them to be aware of."

And calling ambulances for medical conditions was often at the discretion of management, and not the resident. Residents disclosed that they often felt "intimidated" by management and were wary of making complaints as a result.

One key concern to emerge from the meeting, according to the IPA chairman Stephen McMahon, were the recurring complaints of discrimination and racism.

"All residents at the meeting discussed their experiences of being treated differently compared to their Caucasian counterparts.

"One resident had claimed that a Caucasian resident at a direct provision centre was given more favourable treatment by management at the centre when both their children fell ill. Another mother said she had put her sick child's name down for a GP appointment but never received one."

The meeting was co- ordinated by Esther Pepple Onolememen, a healthcare advocate for sickle cell who joined the board of the IPA earlier this year.

Its purpose was to examine the experiences of residents of direct provision centres in accessing medical care in Ireland.

Ms Pepple's role on the board is to advise the advocacy group on diversity and inclusion.

Mr McMahon said: "Our meeting on Friday has shed important light on an area that we believe has been overlooked and that is the difficulties some residents in direct provision centres have in accessing public healthcare."