Review team can enter HSE premises

The team tasked with carrying out an external review of mental health services in an area of the HSE West where sexual assaults have been alleged at a care home has been given right of entry to any HSE premises and a right to conduct interviews.

The HSE has also given a commitment to extend the terms of reference, or even to initiate a separate investigation, if, during the review “it becomes apparent that there are reasonable grounds to believe that there are serious risks to the health or welfare of any person receiving service” beyond the scope of the original review.

The commitment has been given by Ann O’Connor, HSE national director, mental health division, in a document outlining the investigation’s terms of reference.

The review team, comprised of Brendan Mullen, associate risk director governance/risk management; Dr Nial Quigley, clinical director, South Eastern Trust, Lisburn; and Don Bradley, assistant director, adult mental health services, South Eastern Trust, Lisburn, began their task on August 28 and have three months to complete it. They can request an extension.

According to Ms O’Connor, the team will be afforded certain rights by the HSE “including right of entry (by prior arrangement) to any HSE premises in the [relevant] area, a right to inspect premises, records and/ or documents, a right to conduct interviews and rights to request explanations in relation to documents, records or other information”.

Explaining the need for the review, the HSE said “Although the decision has been prompted in part by a number of specific incidents which will be considered as part of this review, it will also be general in nature and will involve all aspects of the quality, safety and governance” of the service.

The review will look at governance arrangements in the area of multi-disciplinary working; staff management and supervision; staffing levels and compliance with HSE frameworks, policies and protocols.

The team will also review the risk management processes in the area “and adherence to them in practice” including what arrangements are in place “to ensure that incidents are appropriately reported (internally, or where relevant, to external bodies), escalated and acted upon, having regard in particular to the HSE’s published policies”.

The HSE’s national policy on safeguarding vulnerable persons at risk of abuse specifically states that any staff member or volunteer who has a concern over the abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult, must take immediate same-day action “including seeking, for example, medical assistance or the assistance of An Garda Síochána, as appropriate”.

An Inspector of Mental Health Services report this week about a care home in HSE West where a number of sexual assaults are alleged to have occurred said there was “no evidence” gardaí had been told and that “another agency” and not the HSE had alerted gardaí.

The Psychiatric Nurses Association, which wrote to the HSE raising concerns about the assaults, which the HSE denied ever happened, said that it welcomed the review.

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