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Multiple allegations of sexual and physical abuse against disability care staff

The concerns are all raised in documents released by Hiqa (the Health and Quality Authority) to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act.

ALLEGATIONS OF SEXUAL, physical and emotional abuse have been levelled at care staff in disability services across Ireland.

Concerns around understaffing, proper hygiene, assault among care patients and residents of centres, unexplained bruises, neglect and other issues have also been raised repeatedly over the past year.

The issues are all raised in documents released by Hiqa (the Health and Quality Authority) to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents detail unsolicited information obtained by Hiqa from members of the public, care staff and patients in relation to disability services throughout 2017.

Hiqa has a legal responsibility for the monitoring, inspection and registration of all residential services for both children and adults with a disability in Ireland.

The documents are heavily redacted in places and are undated. All identifying material of the centres and people involved are removed, in order to protect their privacy.

Despite this, they give a clear indication of some of the primary issues affecting disability residential services across the country.

In total, 181 individual issues were raised with Hiqa through this process over the course of the year to November. These range from minor issues, to major concerns around abuse and lack of care.

Numerous allegations around physical and emotional abuse are levelled at staff and patients alike.


In one report, someone alleges that senior management are “covering abuse that has been reported to them”.

“The abuser admitted they physically abused a resident but was allowed to continue working in this service,” the complainant alleges.

last one The piece of unsolicited information. Source: Hiqa FOI

Another report simply puts forward an “allegation of abuse”, while another references an incident that “involved physical and verbal abuse”.

In one heavily redacted report, there are multiple mentions of abuse in different instances. Although it’s unclear the exact nature of the abuse mentioned.

2 The piece of unsolicited information. Source: Hiqa FOI

Another mentions incidents of “physical assault to resident by staff member”.

There is also separate  information given around someone being “abused physically and verbally” and who are “now afraid in their own home and service is not dealing with the matter properly”.

Yet another report states that a person was “sexually and physically abused” by someone else. According to this complainant, a staff member witnessed the incident but did not attempt to stop it.

3 The piece of unsolicited information. Source: Hiqa FOI

Hiqa’s role 

There are just over 1,100 designated centres for people with disabilities across Ireland. The majority of these are operated by the voluntary sector.

Since 2013, these centres have been subjected to independent quality inspections by Hiqa. This followed concerns by not-for-profit groups that people with disabilities did not have enough safeguards in place for their wellbeing.

Hiqa does not have a remit to investigate the individual complaints and problems raised in the above cases. Rather, they use the information to inform inspections on centres.

“The aim of the Health Information and Quality Authority is to advance high-quality and safe care for people accessing health and social care services in Ireland,” a spokesperson said.

“Where Hiqa has concerns related to the safety of residents and the quality of care that they are receiving, providers are required to take immediate action to address this.

Hiqa inspectors follow up with providers to ensure that the actions are being implemented and are resulting in improvements for residents.

Hiqa has powers to monitor, inspect and investigate to ensure standards and regulations are being upheld.

It is also able to take legal action against centres that consistently fail to uphold standards.

Speaking to the Oireachtas Committee on Health in May, Hiqa CEO Phelim Quinn said that many of the centres for disabled people do not meet standards.

This is borne out by inspections throughout the year, which show failings in a number of centres. In November, Hiqa published 21 reports on different residential services.

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It found 12 centres had good compliance, while nine had areas of non-compliance.

In one case, Stewarts Care, in Palmerstown, Dublin, was found to be not safe, with the centre failing to ensure that residents were protected from abuse.

Understaffing, lack of care

In the FOI documents, other CPs (concerned persons) raised issues around understaffing at centres and lack of adequate care.

In one instance, a CP raised fears that residents “may be neglected by staff”, while another raised an issue of residents “wandering around” a centre.

In one complaint around understaffing, the CP “witnessed a staff member leave the centre, following a phone call, leaving one other staff member to care for the residents”.

During this time, a resident was witnessed “walking around with pants down around the resident’s ankles”.

There is also another allegation of someone sleeping and someone else coming into their bedroom and looking down their underwear. The CP said that better supervision was needed from staff in this instance.

Yet another instance had a resident “screaming and roaring in the back garden of a centre while staff allegedly looked on, allowing the incident to continue for 40 minutes.

In another case, an issue was raised of a person being out in front of a centre “nude” with two staff trying to cover them up.

Another CP alleges that during a fundraising event carers were witnessed “using abusive and aggressive behaviour towards a resident”.

Finally, in one case, a person says they are not happy with staff and how they are treated by them.

The complainant states that they are “treated like a leaper and not a human being”.

Commenting on the documents, Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd said that it was important that any allegations are taken very seriously, and that the laws should be changed to allow Hiqa to investigate each issue separately.

“These are very serious allegations and they continue to be a big issue,” he said.

The people who lose out here are the vulnerable people in the homes and the families who don’t know what’s happening.

Read: Concerns raised after residents left for hours without breakfast at disability centre

Read: ‘Major non-compliance’: 82 foster carers in Cork did not have up-to-date Garda vetting

About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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