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'A monumental cock-up': HSE boss admits Grace case worker still in public service and on a full pension

The Director General of the HSE was before an Oireachtas committee yesterday to correct the record.

THE HEALTH SERVICE Executive (HSE) boss yesterday apologised to TDs for telling them that no health worker involved in the Grace case was still in public service.

The Grace case concerns a young woman with intellectual disabilities who was in care. Allegations arose that she had suffered years of abuse, but despite the allegations she remained at the home for 20 years.

Following the publication of two reports into the alleged abuse, the Dáil voted in favour of establishing a Commission of Investigation into the case of Grace, and 47 others who lived in the foster home in the south-east of the country.

Apology 

Addressing the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in February 2016, O’Brien offered his “full, sincere and heartfelt” apology.

When asked by Fine Gael’s John Deasy how many of the HSE staff involved in the case are still in service, O’Brien said there were three individuals that made the key decision to keep Grace at the foster home in the 1990s. He told TDs that none of these people remain in the public service.

All three are now retired he told the committee last year.

However, since making that statement, it has since emerged that a member of the HSE panel is still working in the public health service.

O’Brien was back before the committee yesterday to clarify the comments he made last year and to correct the record.

hse boss

In his opening statement, the HSE boss said he had reviewed his transcript from last year, adding that the information he gave to politicians was made in “good faith”.

O’Brien said the two reports into the care of Grace refer to a number of people involved in her care over a wide range of years.

He said the three people he referred during the committee hearing last year were actually part of a five-person panel.

However, he said three people on that panel played an important role in the decision to leave Grace in her foster home. This panel was also tasked with carrying out eight key actions into her care. A number of these, including making Grace a ward of court, were not followed through.

Referring to his statement made last year, O’Brien said he told the committee the three people are no longer in the public service.

Retired and on full pensions 

“The three people I referred to were all retired on the date I made the statement,” he said, adding that all three are in receipt of full HSE pensions.

Assuming that the individuals were all in receipt of pension payments, the HSE boss said he assumed none were in the public service anymore.

“I would like to correct the record of the committee,” said O’Brien, who went on to say that the person referred to as H3 [a title given to the person] who retired in 2012 and is in receipt of full HSE pension does still to this day carry out some specialist clinical services for Tusla on a part-time basis.

This person also worked for the Child and Family Agency until the end 2013.

He claimed there was confusion due to multiple payroll numbers for the individual.

In light of the information I now have I wish to correct the record of my information to the committee dated February 2 2016.
H3 while retired from the HSE is currently in public service on a part-time basis with Tusla.
I wish to apologise to the committee for not being in position to have more complete information.

The HSE boss also clarified some issues relating to why it was previously reported that the HSE took three years to contact gardaí about the Grace report.

Documents made available through Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation to RTÉ’s This Week programme said the first contact between the HSE and gardaí about the report was in March 2015, three years after the report was finished.

Garda investigation 

He said the HSE has been aware of a “live garda investigation” since 2011. O’Brien said HSE staff were engaging at a local level with the gardaí into the matter.

Certain media reports have been incomplete due to the narrow scope of a Freedom of Information request, O’Brien told the committee yesterday.

He said the gardaí have been engaging on local level with the HSE prior to 2014 – throughout 2012, 2013 and 2014. Had the FOI request mentioned those years specifically “incorrect media headlines” could have been avoided, said O’Brien.

“The HSE, while aware of live garda investigations, did not seek formal permission to publish [the Grace reports] until February 2015,” said O’Brien.

In February 2016, it emerged that an apology to Grace had not been delivered in person as claimed by the HSE.

Speaking about the botched apology, O’Brien told the PAC there was an “extraordinary mess relating to the letters of apology” stating that he felt it was a failure.

“An extraordinary series of mistakes… a monumental cock-up,” he concluded.

What next? 

The Commission of Investigation will now focus on both the HSE itself, its treatment of whistleblowers as well as Grace and the 46 children who passed through the foster home.

It is likely to take some time before the true nature of what went on in the home as a whole, and how the HSE dealt with what it did and didn’t know, comes to light.

Read: ‘As a parent, this is your worst nightmare’: Sister of child at ‘Grace’ home speaks out>

Grace: The four missed opportunities to make her safe>

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