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Expert claims HSE staff tried alter ‘Emily’ case report

A safeguarding expert, who led a review into a nursing home where a resident known as ‘Emily’ was sexually assaulted, complained to the Health Service Executive (HSE) that senior staff members requested that she alter her final report.

In a letter, the chairperson of the National Independent Review Panel (NIRP), which was tasked with independently reviewing governance arrangements at the nursing home following the assault in April 2020, claimed there were efforts to undermine the work of the NIRP.

In the correspondence to HSE senior management, NIRP Chairperson Bernie McNally said there were attempts by HSE management to remove sections of the NIRP report that related to other alleged offences at the facility.

The letter, seen by RTÉ News, was written in November 2022, before the NIRP submitted its report on the sexual assault of Emily to the HSE.

Attempt ‘to intimidate’ – letter

In it, Ms McNally said that despite numerous reassurances on her behalf that the NIRP report was evidence-based and independently verified, she said there were “spurious and non-sensical allegations” made by HSE management that she considered to be an attempt “to intimidate me and cast doubt on the validity of the NIRP process”.

Ms McNally, who has worked in the field of safeguarding for 38 years, pointed out that she was commissioned to undertake the review to help the health service understand how a woman could have been raped in a HSE facility which should have been a place of safety.

While she said she respected the right of anyone to challenge her report and its findings if those challenges are based on factual inaccuracies, she added: “What I do not expect however, nor do I accept, is that senior staff in the HSE with limited experience in safeguarding have the right to challenge my expertise and competence to conduct a review or provide an expert opinion.”

“Furthermore, I do not expect and will not accept the constant requests from senior staff in the HSE to remove large sections of the report, particularly those sections relating to previous allegations of sexual abuse that have yet to be fully investigated,” she wrote.

The NIRP review was one of two reviews carried out at the nursing home after the woman was raped while Covid restrictions were in place in April 2020.

A HSE worker known as ‘Mr Z’ was arrested and convicted for the assault.

The second review was conducted by the safeguarding investigation team, which was a group of HSE social workers led by external expert Marcella Leonard.

Residents’ files examined

Ms Leonard and the team were asked by the HSE to look at the files of other residents at the home to see if there could be more victims.

It was agreed that the NIRP and the safeguarding team would liaise regularly and share information given the nature of the work.

However, Ms McNally claims in her letter to the HSE that the NIRP was requested to remove any evidence from the report that relied on testimony from the safeguarding team.

She said she was surprised and shocked that senior HSE management refused to accept the safeguarding team report from qualified and experienced safeguarding social workers who documented concerns about sexual assaults in a nursing home run by the HSE.

Ms Leonard previously stated that the HSE shut down the safeguarding review after they raised concerns about more potential victims.

At the time, HSE CEO Bernard Gloster said he was given no indication that anyone malevolently wished to suppress anything.

In July this year, Mr Gloster requested that another safeguarding expert, Jackie McIlroy, review the NIRP report into the rape of Emily and to assess the work of the safeguarding review team also.

The safeguarding review team, under the leadership of Ms Leonard, was tasked with examining 79 residents’ files by November 2021.

To meet that timeframe, the social workers reviewed the files of 32 residents, which resulted in a referral to An Garda Síochána with safeguarding concerns in the case of 21 files.

The report by Ms McIlroy described the decision not to review the remaining files of the group of 79 residents as “a missed opportunity”.

Letter of response

The HSE said it accepted Ms McIlroy’s view on this and her recommendation that a further investigation of residents’ files be undertaken to cover the period of Mr Z’s employment.

The HSE is now reviewing between 350 and 400 nursing home residents’ files where Mr Z worked.

In response to the letter from Ms McNally in November, a member of HSE senior management in the Community Health Organisation wrote on behalf of the staff referenced in the complaint.

The response, seen by RTÉ News, said it had asked for the removal of sections of the NIRP report that relied on the safeguarding team report because at that stage, those sections were the subject of “due process and were not necessary” to fulfil terms of references for the NIRP governance review.

The response also defended the safeguarding of vulnerable people by pointing out that this was why the second safeguarding review was commissioned along with the NIRP review.

It noted that the managers in question had significant expertise in the care of older people, bio-social models of care, safeguarding, HR, mental health, nursing and health and social care.

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