The HSE is to write to hundreds of families as it tries to establish if any more residents of a State-run nursing home were sexually abused by a former staff member.
A report has found that it is "highly probable" a wider probe could identify more victims.
The investigation will focus on the same nursing home where a woman, 'Emily', was raped by a staff member, known as Mr Z. He was subsequently convicted and received an 11‐year prison sentence in July 2020.
Mr Z had worked at the home for 16 years, and the HSE said on Friday “over that period of time several hundred residents were cared for there".
A previous, smaller review, identified 21 potential victims, and the HSE said in July its files were shared with gardaí.
However following concern this review was not broad enough, an independent safeguarding expert Jackie McIlroy was asked to assess that.
One family member told her: “Women who contributed so much in their lives, left without a voice in their golden years and now again denied a voice when they need to be most heard."
On Friday, Ms McIlroy recommended a wider investigation, saying it is highly probable that “further indicators of possible harm will be found".
The first review had selected 79 residents' files. However the HSE said to meet a deadline of November 2021, they focused on 32 cases where concerns were previously raised.
Ms McIlroy found the decision not to complete all 79 files was “a missed opportunity”. She said this should have been done when information was fresh in people’s minds. She recommended the HSE set up a social work team to examine the files and support families.
In response, HSE chief executive Bernard Gloster said: “The HSE absolutely accepts Ms McIlroy’s view on this, and her recommendation that a further investigation of residents’ files is undertaken to cover the period of Mr Z’s employment.”
The HSE intends to write to families of residents at the unit during that time, in collaboration with the resident if possible. He said this process will be done “as sensitively and compassionately as possible, fully respecting the wishes of individual families”.
A court order remains in place prohibiting the identification of Emily and of the nursing home.
Irish Association of Social Workers chairman Vivian Geiran called for the broader investigation to be fully resourced, saying “we can’t ignore it”.
“The IASW welcome the report, and we fully support her recommendations, particularly that there be a full investigation of the residents’ files, all the relevant ones while he (Mr Z) was working at the home,” he said.
“From a social workers point of view, we’ve been calling for this anyway all along. It vindicates the work of the social workers involved, and the stance of the Safeguarding Social Work team in the Emily case."
He is aware residents in other homes may be “understandably concerned”, and said: “I wouldn’t want to be scaremongering but at the same time any incident of the type that was evidenced in the Emily case is just completely unacceptable and something that we can’t allow to happen.”
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