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Butler promises to investigate nursing home allegations

'I used to lie awake in bed at night in January and February worried about the number of people we were losing in nursing homes,' said Minister of State with responsibility for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/

Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler has promised to investigate allegations of neglect in nursing homes during the pandemic.

She has committed to meeting residents' families and to leaving "no stone unturned”, in investigating allegations of neglect and even abuse. 

She said she would “take on board everything” families and advocacy groups have said about neglect in nursing homes and "will take any allegation seriously": 

I will have them looked into in depth by my officials and I will take a direct interest in this myself. 

Ms Butler said she believed some nursing homes which were badly hit by Covid-19 "did not have a Plan B" for the pandemic.

“I used to lie awake in bed at night in January and February worried about the number of people we were losing in nursing homes. Obviously, people in nursing homes are very frail and have a lot of underlying conditions. But at the same time, you would expect that they would have a certain standard of care applied at all times.” 

Calls for inquiry into Covid deaths

Socialist Party TD Mick Barry, who has repeatedly called for a public inquiry into nursing home Covid-19 deaths, said: “Reports are accumulating of neglect and mistreatment of elderly people in some nursing homes during the Covid period. These need to be investigated.” 

While he has repeatedly called for a national inquiry into Covid-19 deaths, others have repeatedly flagged the issue of abuse and neglect in homes.

In June 2020, the Irish Association of Social Workers provided a detailed submission to the Government’s Covid-19 Nursing Homes Expert Panel report.

Chair Áine McGuirk warned: “Essential public health measures inadvertently increased risk, by reducing resident access to their social supports.

"Additional safeguarding measures should have been put in place to protect cocooned residents from abuse and neglect, with priority given to nursing homes identified as high risk by Hiqa. 

“Safeguarding social workers have continued to investigate sexual, physical, financial and emotional and organisational abuse allegations in nursing homes during Covid-19.”

The IASW submission was barely acknowledged in the report.

Social workers air their concerns

Leading social workers met with Ms Butler on a Zoom meeting on March 19, to outline their concerns.

The IASW’s Sinead McGarry said: “We brought the general issue of abuse in nursing homes some time ago and in our March meeting, we told the minister we were hearing on the ground the concerns that people had and we very clearly told the minister that people in nursing homes were experiencing harm.

"We were also hearing through our professional members of the risks of nursing homes operating behind closed doors."

She added: “The Workplace Relations Commission has named social workers as the lead professional group in adult safeguarding.

“We shared our professional expertise and our concerns and proposed solutions to government.

“But we haven't received meaningful engagement and no commitment to act on what we had warned about.”

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