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HSE boss says care agency that looked after 'Grace' was not treated unfairly

Tony O’Brien was told by one committee member that he is pre-empting the work of the inquiry.

HSE boss Tony O'Brien
HSE boss Tony O'Brien
Image: Oireachtas TV

HSE BOSS TONY O’Brien has said there is no evidence the care agency that looked after ‘Grace’ had its funding disproportionately cut.

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 claims she remained at the home for 20 years.

Details of the case emerged after whistleblowers who are employed by the service provider which now cares for Grace made protected disclosures about her previous care.

In April, a €6.3 million settlement for Grace was approved by the High Court. A Commission of Investigation into the case has been established by the government.

A whistleblower in the case of ‘Grace’ raised questions over a HSE-commissioned report into the young woman’s care, which was submitted to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Earlier this year, the HSE was asked by then PAC Chairman John McGuinness to examine the funding given to the agency, in which it was alleged the agency was under-funded in terms of an effective cut after whistleblowers raised concerns about Grace’s care.

RTÉ’s This Week programme reported earlier this month that the whistleblower, who works in the service provider caring for Grace, expressed concern over the omission of a table from the report, which quantifies the HSE’s funding of Grace’s care.

A table in a draft version of the Deloitte report completed in May 2017 showed that the annual under-funding of over €70,000 per year amounted to an effective annual cut in the service provider’s funding of as much as 8.8%, according to RTÉ.

However, the table was omitted from the final version of the report, with allegations made against the HSE that it pushed for the table of figures to be removed from the final report.

In the previous year, the HSE informed the PAC that average annual cuts amounted to 4.9% for Grace’s care providers, a figure the care agency disputed.

McGuinness said he believed the omission of the table was an attempt by the HSE to “muddy the water” over the funding of Grace’s care service provider.

O’Brien told committee members today that serious allegations had been made against the independent report and how it was carried out.

Reading a letter into the record from Deloitte, where it explained that it was determined the inclusion of the table of figures in questions would be “misleading”.

Deloitte clarified in its statement to the committee that the “removal of this table was not due to pressure by the HSE”. It also stated that it was not within the terms of reference of the report to ascertain the reasons for the funding cuts, stating that is a matter for the commission of investigation into the case.

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said the report “does not pass on any view if the agency was treated fairly or unfairly” in terms of funding between 2009 and 2015.

O’Brien said he has accepted the final report by Deloitte into the cost of care, adding that it shows that the service provider was treated fairly in comparison to other service providers at that time.

He said that any adjustments made to the final report “was not as a result of pressure by the HSE”.

Cullinane said O’Brien was not in a position to make such a call, stating that the Deloitte report was not tasked with determining that, adding that he believes O’Brien is pre-empting the work of the inquiry into the Grace case.

O’Brien replied that if he failed to offer his opinion on the issue, he would not be doing his job.

“Every provider was facing cuts. Is there evidence this provider was treated disproportionately? No,” replied O’Brien.

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

Read: Staff involved in care for ‘Grace’ were promoted, PAC told>

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