Just one in five health and social care workers has been formally briefed on the HSE’s open disclosure policy, and only one in 25 has attended a training workshop — five years after patients were assured the policy would be standard practice.
The figures emerged amid continuing fallout from the CervicalCheck scandal which uncovered a culture of concealment that allowed doctors withhold medical details from women arbitrarily.
The HSE and Department of Health are scrambling to put in place regulations and structures to try to ensure that workers know their responsibilities to patients and are sanctioned if they try to cover up mistakes or failings.
However, while the department is proposing a Patient Safety Bill to legally oblige workers to openly disclose information under threat of criminal prosecution, the HSE is only now creating a full-time national open disclosure office.
Two full-time trainer posts have been advertised to join the one senior official who is the national lead on open disclosure.
Only 4,585 of the HSE’s 116,500 employees have attended a half-day workshop on the policy, while 22,808 attended a one-hour group briefing on the subject. The extent of training and briefing among agency workers is unknown.
“Open disclosure training is not part of the service level agreement [with operators providing outsourced services],” the HSE said.
“However, any worker, either agency or otherwise, must adhere to HSE policies when working for the HSE and this would include open disclosure.”
Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients Association said the figures were very disappointing.
“I have great concern for the effectiveness of the policy,” said Mr McMahon. “This policy has been in place for five years and it should be a part of the culture now but it’s clear there’s a very long way to go.”
Under HSE rules, all newly recruited staff are meant to complete “induction guidelines and checklists” within two months of taking up employment and the HSE said open disclosure policy was on the checklist.
Gabriel Scally said in his report on CervicalCheck that the application of the policy was “deeply contradictory and unsatisfactory”.
Vicky Phelan, the Limerick woman who brought the scandal to light, and Stephen Teap, who lost his wife, Irene, both called for sanctions for workers who did not adhere to open disclosure policy.
Ms Phelan said: “Unfortunately, you need to put sanctions in place in order for people to toe the line and actually do what they’re supposed to do.”
Mr Teap added: “Asking people to follow the policy doesn’t work.”
The HSE said training was “active and ongoing”.