Almost 8,000 claims of adult abuse or neglect have been made to the HSE.
The 7,884 alleged incidences include physical, psychological, financial, and sexual abuse of people aged between 18 and 64.
All of these claims of abuse were made to the HSE in 2016 and it is the first time that such figures have been recorded.
Physical abuse was the most common allegation, at 48%, followed by psychological, at 24% and sexual, at 11%.
For adults over the age of 65, psychological abuse was the most commonly reported form of abuse, at 27%, followed by physical abuse, at 22%, and financial abuse, at 21%.
The figures have been released as the National Safeguarding Committee (NSC) begins a nationwide campaign to increase public understanding of what constitutes abuse or neglect of vulnerable adults.
Vulnerable adults include people who have dementia, mental health problems, or a physical or intellectual disability.
Voluntary agencies made the highest volume of disclosures to the HSE — 38% of claims were made by a representative voluntary body, 26% came from a public or general health nurse, and just 4% were made by families.
NSC chairwoman Patricia Rickard-Clarke said that the HSE figures represent a worrying prevalence of adult abuse.
“There is a lack of public understanding as to what actually constitutes abuse, and what safeguarding means for vulnerable adults, who are those most at risk,” said Ms Rickard-Clarke said.
“This is shown in that families and individuals reported relatively few cases.”
The committee’s national awareness campaign will draw attention to the fact that over-medicating a person is “not OK”, said the NSC chairwoman.
“This aim of the National Safeguarding Committee campaign is to show that taking money to cover care expenses without a person’s knowledge, over-medicating, or locking someone in a room while going out is not OK,” said Ms Rickard-Clarke.
“These are abuses of people’s liberties and rights — including vulnerable people who lack capacity.”
Ms Rickard-Clarke also highlighted financial abuse as a “particular area of concern”.
She said that while most people who have permission to manage a vulnerable person’s finances are “honourable”, figures show that financial abuse occurs in up to 20% of cases.
“We need a transparent tracking system, which accounts for the uses of the finances of people who have reduced capacity,” said Ms Rickard-Clarke.
Tim Hanly, who is the general manager of the HSE’s National Safeguarding Office, said the release of the figures should see a spike in the number of abuse cases being reported.
A dedicated support number has been established by the HSE National Safeguarding Office, at (061) 461 358, which the public can call for advice and to receive direction to the most appropriate services.
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