Nine taken ‘off duty’ over abuse claims

Nine workers at a centre for people with intellectual disabilities, which is being investigated by gardaí after the sudden death of a resident in 2012, have been taken "off duty" after separate serious abuse allegations.

The individuals, who cannot be named, were temporarily removed after incidents of forced feeding, slapping, kicking and other physical abuse were found by an RTÉ investigation.

The HSE West confirmed the situation at the Aras Attracta facility in Swinford, Co Mayo, and said it was launching an “independently-led” inquiry to find out exactly what happened.

While the HSE said taking the nine staff members “off duty” was standard practice and does not necessarily mean they had done anything wrong, the matter was also being examined by the Health Information Quality Authority and gardaí.

A HSE spokesperson said the matter was being taken “extremely seriously”, while Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the claims were “intolerable”.

Speaking on RTÉ radio, HSE national director for social care Pat Healy said if any of the claims were true “it is unacceptable practice and unacceptable behaviour”.

The latest concerns surrounding the facility emerged after an undercover reporter for RTÉ’s Investigations Unit recorded what he said was abuse against vulnerable people there.

Mr Healy stressed he had yet to see the recordings, but was insistent that immediate steps needed to be taken to protect the residents involved.

Aras Attracta caters for 95 people with intellectual disabilities with a further five places for respite care. It was previously the subject of a Garda investigation into the sudden death of long-term resident Francis Loughney.

The 72-year-old passed away in 2012 after becoming ill at the facility. Last July it emerged gardaí were investigating the death, with a specific focus on why Mr Loughney was not seen by a doctor in the five days before he lost his life, despite having a high temperature and being given prescribed antibiotics.

The facility has been the subject of a number of on-site visits by HIQA inspection teams in recent years, which led to 59 separate recommendations outlining how Aras Attracta needed to improve its standards of care and general services. These have been put in place.

After the latest HIQA visit in July, Psychiatric Nurses Association national secretary Noel Giblin, who had worked at the facility, said significant staff shortages were behind a series of problems.

He said patients were “acting out” because they were not receiving due care and attention, and that staff calls to appoint 28 more frontline workers due to demands had been ignored.

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