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A Clare lobby group has lodged a complaint with the UN.

Lobby Group complains to UN

A Clare lobby group has taken the dramatic step of seeking the intervention of the United Nations Human Rights’ Council to address alleged injustices affecting psychiatric patients and their relatives.

Frustrated by the lack of an adequate response and apparent lack of interest in their concerns and issues, Support Link has lodged a hard-hitting petition with both the Office of the United Nations in Geneva and the European Parliament.

Citing three cases involving Clare Mental Health Services and one concerning the Health Service Executive in Dublin, the group is seeking radical changes in legislation to protect patients and their relatives, following alleged breaches of their constitutional and human rights.

Accusing the HSE of acting outside the law, it claims relatives have been barred from visiting when they dare to ask questions about their care and treatment.

It says legislation needs to come about to protect citizens from unlawful actions, which include breaches of their fundamental and constitutional human rights.

Group secretary and local whistleblower, Bridie Cox explained the group also wants the establishment of a new, independent health ombudsman, as internal HSE investigations are not open and transparent.

Acting on behalf of local patients, the group contacted numerous Dáil deputies, including Health Minister, Dr James Reilly; Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch and Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, some of whom did not acknowledge their representations.

The group also contacted Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who forwarded their representation to Minister Reilly.

A HSE spokeswoman said the issues referred to have already been the subject of investigations. She said the review process is part of the statutory complaints system and does achieve satisfactory results and has produced many recommendations that have and are being implemented to ensure that the quality of patient care is improved.

Stating the Ombudsman is there to investigate health complaints, she pointed out  the setting up of a specific Health Ombudsman is a Government matter.

“The HSE Quality and Patient Division works very closely with patients to understand their experience and to use this to improve the quality of services. Hospitals throughout the country have established working groups which include patient representatives. Hospitals work hard to measure patient experiences and to use this information to improve services.

“In addition, the Open Disclosure Policy, which was launched in November 2013, is part of a commitment to improving how the health services inform patients and families when things go wrong in their care,” she said.

Group secretary and local whistleblower, Bridie Cox explained the group also wants the establishment of a new, independent health ombudsman, as internal HSE investigations are not open and transparent.

Setting out Support Link’s reason for sending the petition to the EU Parliament and the UN, Ms Cox said, “Following increasing frustration at the lack of response and apparent lack of interest in our concerns and issues, by our own elected ministers, the group is now left with no option but to go to Europe and the UN.

“At best, all we received was an acknowledgement and, at worse, our concerns were ignored.”

Ms Cox said the whistleblowing legislation does not go far enough in Ireland.

“Internal investigation seeks to protect the HSE, and the most vulnerable and voiceless are left unprotected. Support Link is seeking that EU Parliament will bring about legislation that will encourage whistleblowing and the establishment of an independent group to support whistleblowers,” she said.

The group believes their case is strengthened by an “unreserved apology”, which was given, in a HSE letter, to two members of the Finn family, concerning the treatment given to their late father, Gerard Finn, from Kilrush.

The group claims the common denominator in most of their cases was that relatives were “subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, attacks on our honour, reputation and good name” once they raised concerns about alleged abuse, neglect and bad care practices.

It cited the case of whistleblower and nurse Bridie Cox, who allegedly suffered from “unfair and unjust working conditions, once she made her complaints of physical, emotional, psychological and financial abuse and neglect of vulnerable patients, known”.

The petition highlights the case of the late Gerard Finn, who experienced “serious unexplained bruising over much of his upper body, septicemia, hematoma, pneumonia and coma”. It noted all admissions to Ennis Hospital recorded serious concerns in relation to over-sedation, bed sores, dehydration, bruising and other issues.

It also cited the case of John Keogh from Sixmilebridge, who walked into the Acute Psychiatric Unit in Ennis in “good health and came home a shadow of his former self”.

The petition made a number of claims concerning the administration of his medication and difficulties where members of the Keogh family were denied access to him for over three weeks.

Citing a case concerning the Wilson family, it noted this family has made complaints to the gardaí about a health worker and registered a sworn affidavit highlighting alleged serious abuse of elderly patients.

Having raised a number of issues in relation to the Attorney General’s Office, the group’s correspondence was sent to the Department of Health by the Taoiseach’s office. Minister Reilly’s private secretary, David O’Connor told the group in a letter that the HSE had been asked to investigate the issues it raised and reply directly as a matter of urgency.

However, the group expressed its dissastisfaction with this response in a reply letter to the minister and referred to having encountered “inhumane and degrading treatment, distortion and ignoring of factual evidence put forward, cover-up, whitewash and violations of their own terms of reference” in relation to previous HSE interaction.

Ms Cox claimed any review of investigations undertaken by the HSE would be biased, as all complaints about care in the health service require an independent report.

“There is an urgent need to investigate the inadequacies that exist in the current system at its most critical juncture, where unlawful actions infringe and violate the rights of citizens.

“Minister, if your department continues to ignore and allow poor care practises and lack of accountability for wrong-doing, then we are all doomed when we reach old age or become so ill that we should require nursing care in a nursing home, private or public,” she stated.

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