A new National Adult Safeguarding Policy is to be developed for the health sector, after Government granted approval for the move yesterday.
The safety and protection of vulnerable people is a key objective of Government and society. The government’s decision acknowledges the need to build further on the existing range of policies, procedures, codes of practice and legislation aimed at protecting and safeguarding vulnerable adults in the health sector in Ireland.
The Department of Health will now undertake an extensive exercise of research and policy development to assist in framing an appropriate policy and legislation for the health sector. This will be a complex undertaking and the department aims to engage with stakeholders to assist in informing the development of the policy. To that end, a public consultation and engagement process will be undertaken in 2018.
The Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD said:
The Minister for Disabilities, Finian McGrath TD stated:
The Minister for Older People and Mental Health, Jim Daly TD stated:
The safety and protection of vulnerable people is a key objective of Government and society. A range of legislation and policy-based measures to that end is already in place in Ireland but it is acknowledged that there is a need to identify gaps in legislation and also that promoting awareness and cultural change is key to effective safeguarding.
The Department of Health will develop a national safeguarding policy for the health sector underpinned with appropriate legislation. It will be a very broad and complex piece of work involving an extensive scoping exercise to determine the precise nature of the policy and the legislative framework that may be required to support it. It includes reviewing current practice and legislation, researching best practice internationally and wide-ranging consultation. A public consultation process will be announced in 2018.
Are there existing safeguarding measures?
There have been key improvements in policy and procedures in relation to the protection of vulnerable adults, most important of which was the development of national safeguarding policy and procedures by the HSE in 2014 – “Safeguarding Vulnerable Persons at Risk of Abuse National Policy”. However, while this policy delivers good systems and structures to provide for the protection of vulnerable adults it is an operational policy and is largely confined to just the social care division – primarily older people and disability related services. Since the launch of the HSE’s safeguarding policy, a number of supporting structures have also been put in place, including the establishment a National Safeguarding Committee, and the establishment of the National Safeguarding Office. The HSE has also set up nine safeguarding and protection teams, one in each community health organisation (CHO) to co-ordinate consistent responses to concerns of abuse and neglect.
In 2016, almost 8,000 notifications of safeguarding concerns were submitted to the safeguarding teams. The HSE has invested in additional staffing and support resources to strengthen the capacity base of these teams. Almost 60 staff members are involved in the safeguarding teams throughout the country. The implementation of the policy has seen the appointment of more than 900 designated officers in service settings relating to disability and older persons and more than 30,000 health sector personnel have undertaken safeguarding training to date.
A detailed review of the operation of the HSE’s safeguarding policy to date is at an advanced stage and is expected to be completed by early 2018. The review includes research and analysis of legislative and procedural approaches to safeguarding vulnerable adults in other jurisdictions. The findings of the HSE’s safeguarding review, when completed, will be of particular value in informing the development of the national adult safeguarding policy for the health sector.
Why is there a need for a national health sector policy and legislation?
The HSE operational policy was an important milestone in relation to the protection of vulnerable adults in certain care settings. It provides a robust foundation for the health sector policy on safeguarding. However, it is also acknowledged that it is limited in scope to, primarily, the social care division and the HSE has highlighted that legislative underpinning would strengthen its implementation. There is also considerable stakeholder interest and demand for strengthening the framework for adult safeguarding in the health sector, particularly in relation to having legislative underpinning. In July 2016, “the McCoy Report on Áras Attracta” included recommendations to place the HSE’s safeguarding procedures on a statutory basis in order to ensure effective implementation and there is also a commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government to review elder abuse legislation. It is therefore important to build on the success of the existing policy to complement, secure and broaden the scope of protections, where appropriate, in the health sector.