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Safeguarding expert to be appointed after review into sexual assault at HSE-run nursing home

Mary Lou McDonald said a review into the handling of the case ‘uncovered that other residents have made allegations against this same healthcare assistant in the past’.

A SAFEGUARDING EXPERT will be appointed in the coming days after allegations of multiple sexual assaults by a healthcare worker at a HSE-run nursing home.

Speaking at this afternoon’s Leaders’ Questions, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald raised the governance review into the nursing home.

In 2020, a healthcare worker at the nursing home was jailed for 11 years for raping a resident known by the pseudonym of “Emily”. 

In a statement issued to The Journal today, a HSE spokesperson said it is “responding to a very tragic and detailed safeguarding issue in a care facility for older people”.

The HSE spokesperson added: “A serious sexual assault prosecuted and convicted as rape occurred in a care facility for older people.

“This abhorrent act was perpetrated in a total abuse of power, by a staff member over a person who was in vulnerable circumstance (pseudonym Emily).

“The HSE welcomes the conviction and sentencing as the appropriate act of accountability in this case.

“There are a number of issues which limit what the HSE can say at this time, including aspects of legal restriction.”

McDonald said a review into the handling of the case “has uncovered that other residents have made allegations against this same healthcare assistant in the past”.

However, McDonald said these “serious allegations were not followed up with a safeguarding report, and some were dismissed as residents being confused or hallucinating”. 

The Sinn Féin leader described the review as “damning” and added that “Emily and the other residents who came forward to report attacks have been let down in the most horrific way”.

In its review, the National Independent Review Panel issued nine recommendations and McDonald said “these must be implemented without delay”.

McDonald explained: “They include the establishing of a working group to examine and reform how residential facilities for older people operate, and to ensure that they are in line with international best practice.

“It includes putting in place a staff awareness campaign to ensure that older people who are victims of sexual abuse are believed and that safeguard allegations are always taken seriously.

“It also recommends better management of patient’s notes to ensure concerns or signs of abuse are recorded and identified.”

She added that the government can take a number of steps also, such as implementing adult safeguarding legislation to “hold organisations and individuals to account for failing to protect people who are at risk”. 

McDonald also warned that there is an “urgency” around the changes that are needed. 

The National Independent Review Panel’s report has been viewed by RTÉ News and stated that none of the incidents were followed up in accordance with HSE safeguarding policy.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described it as a “hugely distressing and shocking affair” and added that it “strikes terror into the heart of anyone living in a nursing home or anyone who has a loved one in a nursing home”. 

Varadkar added that the man who committed the assaults was “imprisoned by the cognitive clarity and emotional strength of Emily, who testified against him and has since passed on”. 

He said the review found that warning signs and warning signals were missed, and that allegations were not followed up by staff in line with HSE safeguarding policies. 

Varadkar said he and the CEO of the HSE, Bernard Gloster, “are not satisfied that we fully understand all the issues of this facility”. 

As a result, Varadkar said a “safeguarding expert from overseas will be appointed to assist us” in the coming days. 

Varadkar noted that “we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there were safeguarding policies in place and they were not followed”. 

He added that these policies include a “zero tolerance approach that requires staff to report all concerns”. 

As part of the HSE’s statement to The Journal, HSE CEO Bernard Gloster said: “Our concern has to remain with the family of Emily, and the families we have engaged with to date, and intend to engage with further, on the wider safeguarding issues in this care facility.  

“We can only at this time unreservedly apologise, condemn what happened, and do all we can to ensure that safeguarding for all people in alternative care is at the highest level of priority for us.  

“I am not satisfied we yet fully understand all of the issues in this facility or indeed for those arising for the wider care context.  

“In that respect I intend in the coming days to appoint a safeguarding expert from another jurisdiction to assist us. 

Gloster added that Emily was “unequivocally” failed, “regardless of how much we were deceived by any one individual employee”.

Gloster said two examinations have taken place to date, a review by the National Independent Review Panel, and a local Safeguarding Team review.

Both of these reports have identified a number of issues and Gloster said the “HSE will continue to engage further with the families of those who were in our care”. 

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