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Investigation launched into allegations of serious abuse at centre for those with intellectual disabilities

Families of the service users have been calling for an independent investigation since last August.

Image: Sam Boal

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has today confirmed that there is to be a full independent investigation into a provider of services and care for people living with intellectual disabilities after it received hundreds of complaints.

A HSE commissioned review of Sunbeam House Service (SHS) in Wicklow found that there were five claims that service users were sexually abused.

Other safeguarding concerns included allegations of neglect and physical, psychological and financial abuse.

SHS provides a range of supports to adults with intellectual disabilities in Wicklow and south county Dublin areas.

In total, there were 284 complaints about its services over a period of two-and-a-half years.

Last year, it received €23.7 million in funding from the HSE and employs more than 400 people in the south Dublin/Wicklow areas.

SHS provides:

  • 323 day service places
  • 220 users in 131 residential places
  • 42 home support services
  • 33 rehabilitation training places
  • 9 respite beds providing over 800 places to 51 service users each quarter

Harris said he is “sure” the HSE will deliver on the investigation and that no stone will be left unturned. The terms of reference are due to be published in the coming weeks.

The review, authored by former Tusla boss Gordon Jeyes, found 284 complaints had been made to Sunbeam about its services between January 2013 and September 2016. Some of the complaints were made on the behalf of the service user by a parent or guardian. Of the complaints:

  • 53 or 18.6% did not require an investigation.
  • Nine were excluded under part 9 of the Health Act.
  • Seven were anonymous.
  • 29 were dealt with informally.
  • Eight were withdrawn.
  • 231 required a formal investigation.

The Sunbeam Assurance Review, which was commissioned by the HSE after a surge in the number of complaints, is a report into how the provider dealt with complaints.

The new investigation has been welcomed by Wicklow TD John Brady.

He said that he has been working with service users and their families since August last year and had been calling for an immediate full and independent investigation into the service.

He said:

I have been informed that details of the investigation have been provided to the SHS Families Advocacy Group through a statement issued by Minister Harris this morning.  Minister Harris has committed that the 33 safeguarding concerns in the Jeyes Report will be prioritised and rigorously investigated in full.

“I understand that Deloitte will be commissioned to conduct a forensic audit of all funds and finances and the Advocacy Group will have input on the terms of reference.

“The Minister has made a number of references to the involvement of the SHS Families Advocacy Group throughout this morning’s statement and their input is crucial in this investigation. Without the Advocacy Group, this long-awaited investigation would not have been announced and I commend the families who have ultimately, made this happen.”

In a statement on its website SHS says it is committed to the implementation of a detailed action plan following discussions with the HSE.

“SHS is determined to rebuild trust and will address its procedures and governance issues as a matter of priority as the organisation renews its commitment to the people which SHS supports together with their families and the communities served by SHS.”

It also apologised for the shortcomings evidenced in the assurance report.

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