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Crisis at Western Care


'DEEPLY CONCERNED' Rose Conway Walsh ,TD, has submitted Parliamentary Questions in the Dáil on the situation at Western Care.

‘Deeply troubling’ concerns about Mayo charity spark calls for independent investigation

Edwin McGreal

With troubles at Western Care set to be aired in Dáil Éireann this week, The Mayo News has learned that an under-the-spotlight section of the association was described as being in a ‘significant crisis’ in 2020.
Furthermore, two workers – one former and one present – have told this newspaper that little has changed since the report was published, saying that risks to staff and service users remain.
The Mayo News has learned that the Individualised Services section (IS) of Western Care is a central element of the ongoing upheaval at Western Care, which has seen employees placed on leave and the CEO relieved of his duties.
“People who work or worked in IS and many in the wider organisation are aware of very serious incidents in IS relating to service users and staff that were avoidable with the proper level of governance,” one former Western Care employee told The Mayo News.
Mayo TD Rose Conway-Walsh is calling for a ‘swift, independent, transparent investigation to deal with this very serious situation’.
Deputy Conway-Walsh has put in a series of parliamentary questions on the issue. She has asked Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to ‘initiate an independent investigation into the performance and service provision at Western Care’ and wants to know whether the minister is ‘aware of the protected disclosures made to the HSE regarding Individualised Services’ in Western Care, and whether he will make a statement on both matters.
Answers to those questions are due today, and the matter could also be discussed in Dáil Éireann this week.
“I’ve a duty of care from the information that I’ve received,” Deputy Conway-Walsh told this paper yesterday (Monday).
“I’m deeply concerned at this point. The families and people of Mayo need answers. I’m also very conscious how difficult this is for the many dedicated Western Care workers who work tirelessly to ensure the rights of those in their care are upheld.
“It’s also very important Western Care and the HSE come out and assure workers and families that they will not be punished in anyway for coming forward with any information. There needs to be a guarantee current and former workers and families won’t be disadvantaged in anyway. There must be an ethos of openness.”

Damning assessment
Western Care provides disability services to over 850 service users in Mayo and Individualised Services (IS) is one section of the organisation. IS provide support for people living in their owned or rented accommodation and the level of supports vary depending on the needs of the service user. There are 50 residential services (homes) under IS.
The Wolfe Report of 2020 gave a damning assessment of IS. It was prepared by the Kilkenny-based Wolfe Group, a consultancy group that specialises in governance pertaining to the healthcare and social care sectors.
“In our view, Individualised Services, as an entity, is very much in a significant crisis situation at present, despite the best intentions of all involved.
“There is a high risk of burnout for some staff and management and there is also a high risk of staff injury,” the review stated.
A current employee of Western Care, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, echoed many of the concerns voiced by the former employee.
“The Wolfe Report clearly outlines the concerns from two years ago and the governance concerns over Individualised Services. Unfortunately the main concerns for client and staff safety still remain,” they said.
Western Care declined to comment on the Wolfe Report. When news of upheaval at the organisation was first broken by The Mayo News two weeks ago, they said they are ‘undertaking a review of management structures’ to ‘ensure’ they meet ‘the highest standards of governance in the administration of its duties’.
The Mayo News learned that Donal McCarthy had his role as CEO ended by the board after only six months in the position. He has since been replaced by an Interim CEO, Dr Aoife O’Donohue.
The HSE told The Mayo News it received a copy of the Wolfe Report from Western Care.
“The HSE are working with Western Care to support the organisation in implementing the recommendations within the report. Progress has been made in bringing about service improvement with an expectation that this will continue into 2023,” it said in a statement to this newspaper.
With regard to the Wolfe Report, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) said many providers commission consultancy companies to assist it and that the HIQA Chief Inspector has ‘no role in the retaining or setting the agenda for such arrangements. “Inspectors assess each centre against the requirements of the regulations and the national standards,” it said.

Local reaction
Mayo Fine Gael TD Michael Ring said the problems at Western Care have to be identified and addressed.
“The review that is being held, we need the results urgently. A lot of people have been onto me very concerned about their service with Western Care.
“I am someone who has supported Western Care down through the years as a TD and a Minister and done everything in my power to make sure funding has been available.
“It is a service we appreciate, but at the same time we need to know what the problems are and how they are going to be solved because people are suffering.
“The HSE and the Government cannot walk away from Western Care either. They need to be a part of this review,” he said.
Castlebar-based Cllr Michael Kilcoyne, a member of the HSE Regional Forum (West) said ‘people have a right to know what is happening’.
“I feel Western Care has an obligation to tell service users and their families exactly what is happening, what has went wrong and why are all these issues arising,” he said.  
“People have a right to know what is happening. The public have a right to know too because they’ve been funding the organisation.”



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