‘THE BUCK STOPS WITH THE MINISTERS’ Deputy Rose Conway Walsh.
Mayo TD Rose Conway-Walsh has criticised Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Minister for Disabilities Anne Rabbitte for not initiating an independent investigation into issues at Western Care.
That comes following a written response by Minister of State Rabbitte to a Parliamentary Question by Deputy Conway-Walsh. The Sinn Féin TD asked if Minister Donnelly would sanction an independent investigation into the organisation which is in turmoil following management upheaval and concerns over the Individualised Services section of the organisation.
Minister Rabbitte appeared to rule it out.
“Given the governance and oversight responsibilities of the HSE and HIQA respectively, it would not be appropriate for the Minister to set up any other process in respect of the organisation concerned,” said Minister Rabbitte.
However, speaking last night (Monday), Deputy Conway-Walsh expressed her dissatisfaction with this response.
“The ministers have to take responsibility here. The buck stops with them,” she told The Mayo News. “If we’ve learned anything from bodies investigating themselves in the past, then it is absolutely clear that what is happening here requires an independent investigation to uncover the truth.
“The ministers are responsible for uncovering the truth. I’ve received such a broad range of really concerning experiences and there are a lot of common threads about what I am being told. The major common threads include the fear of coming forward, the fear of reporting, people being told to keep their nose out of it if they seek to report something they’ve been uncomfortable with,” she added.
She said she has been inundated with concerns from current and former staff and also families of service users in recent weeks.
“The calls keep coming in and I welcome that. I want to acknowledge the courage and bravery of people who have come forward and shared their experiences,” she said.
In response to questions from The Mayo News, Western Care issued the following one line statement: ‘Western Care Association expects to update families of those supported and staff on the ongoing review into management structures this week’.
Issues at Western Care were first broken by this newspaper on November 22 when Western Care said they were ‘undertaking a review of the organisation’s management structures’.
Concerns around Individualised Services have been raised with this newspaper by current and former staff of Western Care while an independent report in 2020 describes Individualised Services as being in a ‘significant crisis situation’.
The Wolfe Report also spoke of a ‘high risk’ of staff burnout and staff injury.
“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 remain,” a current employee told this newspaper.
In Dáil Éireann earlier this month, 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.
The Mayo News understands that a total of four current and former employees of Western Care have made protected disclosures, three of which relates to services in the Individualised Services section of the organisation.
Deputy Conway-Walsh also welcomed the presence of HIQA inspections at Western Care.
“I very much look forward to HIQA making progress in regard to the inspections they’ve conducted in recent months,” said Deputy Conway-Walsh.
In a statement in response to questions from The Mayo News last week, 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’.
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.