The placing of people with an intellectual disability in psychiatric care, sometimes for years even though they do not have a mental illness, features heavily in the complaints made last year to the health service’s confidential recipient.
Leigh Gath said inappropriate placements, in nursing homes and acute psychiatric services, had “a huge impact on quality of life”.
So too did the lack of respite care available to families caring for loved ones with significant intellectual disabilities, as outlined in her report for 2017, published yesterday.
This was putting them under “tremendous stress”, she said.
“Some of the people they care for require around-the-clock care and so the carers get little rest,” Ms Gath said.
Ms Gath said some people were not receiving adequate services, or may not be receiving any service, because funding has not been available to meet their needs.
Another recurring theme was the frustration experienced by members of the public who had attempted to contact the HSE or service provider to raise their concerns, only to receive no response.
“This can cause the families to mistrust the services or their local HSE offices,” Ms Gath said.
“If someone had called or written to these people in a timely manner then they would be happy (most of the time) to work with the HSE to solve their issues, even if it was going to take time.
“People need to feel they are being heard and listened to.”
Staff also had problems with being listened to when trying to raise concerns about services, Ms Gath said.
The number of staff coming forward to her office was on the rise, but most chose to remain anonymous for “fear of reprisal from their employers or other staff”.
“There’s been a culture of fear for years and years that something will happen to them if they come forward. It takes somebody very brave,” she said.
She said some staff who contacted her office had tried to report abuse initially using their own service protocols but felt “that they were either ignored or targeted for redeployment from their workplace or, had other apparent measures taken to discredit them”.
Ms Gath said she believed the complaints made to her office — just under 200 last year — were “the tip of the iceberg”.
The bulk of complaints related to social care services (169). Most of the remainder (22) related to mental health.
The type of concerns raised included safeguarding, client placement/planning, access to equipment, level of staff to support client, financial charges, staff behaviour, safety of care. Where concerns were raised in relation to alleged abuse this included physical, sexual, psychological, financial, neglect, discrimination and institutional.
Less than a quarter of complaints (23%) were closed within the required timeframe of 15 days.
Ms Gath said HSE response times in the past year “were not great” in some areas. She said the HSE was “sadly lacking” at times when it came to responding to complaints “not only in relation to people who make the complaint to them, but between the HSE and myself also”.
“It doesn’t mean they are not doing their job, they are just not picking up the phone to call me”.
In order to overcome such delays, bi-weekly teleconferences are now held with a national lead from the HSE, where open cases are discussed and in turn, requests for updates are directed to chief officers.
In some circumstances concerns were escalated to the National Office where Ms Gath deemed the action or response was not adequate, timely or appropriate.
Ms Gath said all anonymous concerns were resolved during 2017 to her satisfaction, except in two cases, which resulted in major investigations that are still on-going. In 23 instances, the concern/complaint could not be resolved to the satisfaction of the individual.
Ms Gath was appointed in 2014 to proactively be a voice for vulnerable adults with disabilities, or older persons who may otherwise not be heard by the HSE or other service providers.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved