Elderly patients abused in nursing home scandal

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HARROWING abuse of elderly and vulnerable patients is continuing in some Irish nursing homes, an Irish Independent investigation has found.

A litany of serious problems persists in the private nursing home industry four years after the Leas Cross scandal was exposed, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

Investigations carried out by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in nursing homes around the country in the past year found:

Instances of physical and verbal abuse of nursing home residents.

Cases where errors were made in giving medication and where unqualified staff administered medicine.

Cases where severe pressure sores were allowed to develop.

Instances of dramatic weight loss in residents.

Several cases where residents were able to leave their nursing home unsupervised.

In one case, a resident was left in a chair for 10 hours against medical advice.

Another nursing home was advised to temporarily suspend admissions until care standards improved. The findings followed investigations into almost 160 complaints made against 120 private nursing homes last year. Many of the complaints dealt with multiple care issues.

One in five complaints was fully upheld, while a further 14pc were partially upheld. Just under a third of the complaints were not upheld or could not be substantiated. Other complaints were dealt with by way of nursing home inspections or were resolved without the need for a full-scale investigation.

The Health Information and Quality Authority last month took over responsibility for inspections and investigations which were previously undertaken by the HSE.

Private nursing homes are to receive a statutory inspection at least once every six months, with other unscheduled inspections whenever complaints or concerns arise.

Unacceptable

Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI), which represents 300 of the country's 450 private and voluntary nursing homes, described the incidents highlighted by the investigations as "unacceptable" and said that they severely damaged public confidence in the sector. "It is very disappointing that there are still cases like these. We are working with our members to ensure such incidents aren't repeated," said NHI CEO Tadhg Daly.

A recurring theme of the complaints received by the HSE was a lack of communication between the nursing homes and relatives.

In one case, a family was never informed their loved one was close to death. Because of this, they were deprived of the chance of being at their bedside in their final hours.

In another incident, at the Skibbereen Care Centre, Co Cork, relatives were not informed after a patient fell from their chair, suffering significant bruising to the side of their head and face.

Relatives of a resident at Glenbervie Nursing Home, in Bray, Co Wicklow, were also not informed when their loved one was attacked by another patient, suffering bruising on the cheek. Neither was the resident's GP informed until after the family intervened. The injury was deemed severe enough to warrant an X-ray.

A number of complaints were upheld about residents being discharged from nursing homes without proper procedures being followed.

Other common complaints related to low staffing levels, giving rise to slow reaction times of staff when answering call bells. Complaints were also upheld in relation to the poor competency in English of care assistants. Poor hygiene also figured highly in many complaints.

Several complaints were upheld about residents being allowed to wander off and going missing from nursing homes. Documents show that in one case a disappearance was not noticed overnight.

At least two nursing homes in Co Wicklow -- the Atlanta Nursing Home in Bray and the Eyrefield Manor Nursing Home in Greystones -- were issued with recommendations to conceal door codes from residents following investigations of incidents.

A nursing home in Co Cork was accused of failing to return money due to a resident when they were relocated to another nursing home.

The HSE was due to investigate the case, but they closed the file when the owners paid the money back after a relative threatened to go to the media.

Missing

A small number of complaints upheld related to personal items or laundry going missing and never being found. At least one nursing home agreed to financially compensate a resident after clothing went missing without explanation.

In one case a Co Limerick nursing home was prosecuted after a non-clinical staff member gave an injection to a resident.

Documents in relation to another nursing home, in the south east, were withheld due to ongoing court proceedings.

Age Action Ireland said last night it feared the true picture could be much worse as many nursing home residents would feel afraid or unable to make complaints.

"It is distressing that these issues are continuing," the group's spokesman, Eamon Timmins, said.

- Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

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