Litany of mistreatment is truly terrifying for all of us

Many claim that increasingly HIQA fail to see the issue of care and compassion as the primary function of the role of care centres such as the Attracta facility.

Mandy Johnston

Every once in a while a news story comes along that affects us as individuals and as a nation.

The programme 'Inside Bungalow 3' made by RTE's Investigations Unit and broadcast on Tuesday was as shocking as it was shameful.

The ignominy belongs to the disgraceful staff members and management who presided over the shocking practices at the Aras Attracta facility which is run by the HSE. Whilst the traditional role of the media in the modern world may be diminishing, when it succeeds in revealing such horrors happening on our doorsteps, we are rightly shook to our core.

The raw and turbulent scenes left me with a visceral feeling of, anger, sympathy, shame and utter despair. Few who watched it can fail to have been moved to tears at the tragic and palpable fear in the eyes of Mary Garvan who was scolded and threatened in a most disgusting way. At one point, in what was a harrowing programme, 75-year-old Mary Maloney was pinned down to a chair by a care assistant's knee and force fed. All of the offending protagonists in the film were women, I don't know why but this made the situation seem even worse. What is truly questionable is how any human being could or would choose to treat another in this cold, callous and contemptuous way. It is even more horrifying when an individual is vulnerable and dependent on carers for their basic living needs.

The litany of mistreatment depicted in the broadcast defies comprehension and must be utterly devastating and truly terrifying for all families with loved ones in such care facilities. Vocal threats, physical mistreatment, vindictive withdrawal of comfort items, and reported withholding of basic requirements like food, all combined to paint a picture of a group of workers who at best were totally unsuitable to their roles, and at worst are despicable human beings.

This type of behaviour is in direct contravention of the Health Act Regulations, which specifically states that carers should ensure "each resident exercises choice of control in their daily life".

Whilst there is no doubt that working in the area of intellectual disability is extremely challenging and must be emotionally and physically demanding, there can be no circumstances tolerated where staff are left unchecked. Sadly, this was the case at Aras Attracta.

Programme makers acknowledged that there were staff in the facility who treated residents well. However, the good work is undermined by another resident being hit in the face, dragged from a chair, or left isolated and alone for hours on end. All just because they are intellectually disabled and have been placed in care.

Another utterly shocking part of this story is that no one can or will say that this is an isolated incident, because no one really knows. No one has confidence in the system anymore, not even the people charged with its administration. In fact, in a report commissioned by the HSE called 'Congregated Residents Report' they called for similar residential care units under the tutelage of the HSE to be closed by 2018.

The report stated that many residential care units "provide institutional living conditions which lack basic human dignity".

What happened inside 'Bungalow 3' shocked us because we saw it with our own eyes.

But it is what happens outside 'Bungalow 3' that should now occupy our thoughts.

Why did HIQA fail to see and highlight the problems at Aras Attracta? Workers in the psychiatric nursing area suggest that HIQA have become an administrative and bureaucratic quango, obsessed with form filling, file checking and fire training.

Many claim that increasingly HIQA fail to see the issue of care and compassion as the primary function of the role of such care centres.

Nurses complain that over-burdening paper work puts unnecessary and unacceptable stress on care workers and assistants and leaves little or no time for direct patient attention. Care plans are only good when they are implemented. HIQA can monitor all the forms in the world but if care assistants fail to positively interact with patients, the system fails those who need it most.

For now, the imperative is not an enquiry or a national summit. The HSE must make sure, as an immediate priority, that treatment such as that of residents at Aras Attracta is not happening to the 3,700 people housed in similar care facilities in this country.

Obvious needs for training and staff monitoring must now be addressed as a matter of urgency, but offending care assistants at Aras Attracta lacked something far more basic, there was simply no compassion. The intellectually disabled are not objects to be managed, they are people who deserve to be cared for by society.