Care home complaints 'very disturbing', says standards watchdog
THE nursing standards body has described as "very disturbing" a dossier of complaints relating to residential care homes which is currently being investigated by gardai.
The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI) was commenting after reviewing 700 complaints received by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) over the past two years.
The body, which can conduct fitness to practice hearings in cases of alleged misconduct by registered nurses, said it could not investigate the individual complaints as they had been anonymised.
However, it pledged to use the information in future revisions of standards for its education programmes and professional guidance documents.
The NMBI was supplied with the dossier by Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd, who obtained details of the complaints under freedom of information rules.Under these rules, the names of residents, their care homes and the identity of care staff could not be disclosed.
Gardai began investigating the contents of the dossier last month. Officers are now seeking unredacted documentation from HIQA so the complaints can be examined further.
The file contains alleged incidents of physical, mental, sexual and financial abuse in homes for the elderly and people with intellectual disabilities.
In a letter to Mr O'Dowd, the NMBI's acting director of regulation, Ursula Byrne, said the complaints "make for very disturbing reading".
She said the board was not in a position to respond to the complaints as individual nurses and healthcare facilities were not identified in the dossier.
However, she said it may well be the case that some of the complaints had already been brought to the NMBI's attention.
Ms Byrne said the board had taken a proactive approach in relation to guiding nurses and members of the public on standards of care.
This included the recent publication of a new code of professional conduct and ethics.
The complaints were made to HIQA by a variety of people, including care home workers, residents and their relatives.
However, HIQA does not have the power to investigate each complaint individually and can only consider them as part of overall inspections.
The Department of Health said last night it was considering a legislative amendment tabled by Mr O'Dowd which would give HIQA the power to launch investigations.
"The description of these complaints as 'very disturbing' by the nursing board is yet another indication of how serious this situation is," said Mr O'Dowd.
"It is imperative that this issue is dealt with quickly by the Government. The current situation is not acceptable."
The adequacy of HIQA's powers came under the spotlight last month when it emerged two inspections of the Aras Attracta care home in Swinford, Co Mayo, had failed to uncover the scale of the abuse occurring at a unit there.
At present people with grievances are urged to bring them to the care home in the first instance. However, in many of the complaints to HIQA, people were unhappy with how homes dealt with their concerns.
Complaints can be made to Ombudsman if someone is unhappy with the care home's response, but only in the case of state-run homes.