URGENT ATTENTION NEEDED Rose Conway-Walsh wants an independent investigation into the turmoil at Western Care
HIQA confirms it has received ‘information of concern’ regarding Western Care
Mayo TD Rose Conway-Walsh has said some of the stories she has been told concerning Western Care are ‘troubling and traumatic’.
The Sinn Féin TD has repeated calls for an independent investigation into issues at the Mayo charity, which is in turmoil following management upheaval and concerns over the Individualised Services section of the organisation.
She raised the matter with Taoiseach Micheál Martin during Leader’s Questions in Dáil Éireann last week.
“The cases keep coming into me,” she told The Mayo News. “The cases I am hearing, from current staff, former staff and families, are troubling and traumatic.
The urgency of the need for an independent investigation is escalating, rather than de-escalating.
“People need a safe space to have their stories heard. It cannot be the HSE and it cannot be Western Care whom they speak to. It has to be someone outside of them, and it is the responsibility of the Minister (for Health, Stephen Donnelly) to do this. The seriousness of the cases I am hearing require urgent attention.
“I would encourage people to come forward with their experiences. They should not have to rely on politicians or journalists – there should be a safe place where they can be heard,” she added.
In Dáil Éireann, Deputy Conway-Walsh asked the Taoiseach if he was aware that a number of protected disclosures have been submitted by Western Care staff to the organisation and the HSE.
Commonly known as the whistleblower act, the Protected Disclosures Act protects workers in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors from retaliation if they speak up about wrongdoing in the workplace.
She reiterated it is ‘vital’ that nobody be ‘disadvantaged’ for coming forward with information.
“Current and former staff were brave enough to come forward to express concerns they had about the services … There are serious issues that need to be addressed,” she told the Dáil.
“I want to acknowledge the great work that is done by people in the HSE across the board and people within the Western Care Association. There are some excellent people who go above and beyond to protect the rights of those for whom they care.
“We have to change the culture of protecting the system. We must encourage people to come forward … When matters are brought to our attention, we all have a duty of care,” she added.
Deputy Conway-Walsh said she welcomed that the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), the independent watchdog for the healthcare and social care sectors, was conducting inspections in Mayo last week.
In a statement in response to questions from The Mayo News, HIQA said: ‘we can confirm that we have received information of concern relating to individualised services being operated by Western Care Association and are currently engaging with the provider in this regard’.
They said that Western Care has 35 residential centres that are designated and therefore subject to HIQA regular inspections. They said they have undertaken 20 inspections in these centres so far this year.
The Individualised Services section of Western Care provides support for people living in their owned or rented accommodation. The Mayo News understands there are 50 IS residential centres, of which only eight are HIQA designated.
Concerns have been raised by current and former staff that many of the remaining 42 ought to be HIQA designated and therefore subject to independent oversight.
In response to questions on this issue, HIQA stated that while not all residential services fit the criteria of HIQA designated centres, providers such as Western Care are ‘legally responsible’ to notify HIQA’s Chief Inspector and must apply to register centres that meet the criteria.
“The Chief Inspector has a number of regulatory actions that can be taken should a provider fail to fulfil their legal responsibility. The Chief Inspector has no remit to inspect or regulate non-designated centres. Any inspection reports published by HIQA relate only to registered centres,” they added.