Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (16)

Dan Neville

Question:

138 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will set up a public independent investigation into the midlands psychiatric hospital in which a mildly autistic person was allegedly repeatedly raped; his views on the opinion of the rape crisis network that sexual violence against persons with disabilities in residential institutions is prevalent; and if he will investigate the extent of this and appoint an independent inspectorate which has the expertise and authority to identify whether residential settings can protect the human rights of residents. [1696/04]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

An independent inspectorate of psychiatric hospitals has existed for many years, under the provisions of the Mental Treatment Act 1945. The Inspector of Mental Hospitals, Dr. Dermot Walsh, who is retiring this year, has for many years inspected our psychiatric hospitals and issued detailed reports on matters arising from his inspections, including those pertaining to patients' human rights.

This year, a new inspector of mental health services, Dr. Teresa Carey, has taken office. Dr. Carey, who is employed by the Mental Health Commission, has a broad remit under the Mental Health Act 2001 to inspect all facilities where mental health services are provided. Under section 55 of the Mental Health Act 2001 the Minister may request the Mental Health Commission to cause the inspector to inquire into any matter in respect of which an inquiry is appropriate. Yesterday, I invoked my powers under the Act and formally requested the commission to inquire into the case referred to by the Deputy.

The Midland Health Board informs me that, to date, it has received no formal allegation of rape in this case. The board has indicated in writing to the Garda Síochána that it will co-operate fully with any Garda investigation and will respect the primary role of the gardaí in investigating allegations of a criminal nature. The board has also taken steps to investigate the matters which fall within its control and to establish an independent review group to review the care this former patient received while in its care. In particular, this group will review all pertinent matters concerning this former patient while in the care of mental health services in the Midland Health Board, investigate allegations made on behalf of the former patient by her father and review the response of the board's mental health services to previous complaints made by this patient's father on her behalf while she was in the care of those services. The group will make any recommendations deemed appropriate on the board's care management systems, processes and services and submit a report to the board's chief executive officer.

In line with Government policy, the transfer of patients with an intellectual disability from psychiatric hospitals is ongoing. The transfer programme aims to provide more appropriate care settings and enhanced levels of services for persons with an intellectual disability and those with autism accommodated in psychiatric hospitals. In his report for the year ended December 2002, the Inspector of Mental Hospitals acknowledges and details the considerable progress made in recent years in transferring such patients to appropriate facilities.

I remain committed to ensuring that all persons with intellectual disability receive appropriate care and treatment in suitable facilities. I have no evidence to support the assertion that sexual violence against persons with disabilities in residential institutions is prevalent and urge any agency with evidence to this effect to make such evidence available to the appropriate authorities.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply and welcome the announcement that the commission to investigate this case has been set up. We look forward to a speedy conclusion of that investigation and a report on it. Is the Minister of State concerned at the statement of the rape crisis network and, although he says he has no knowledge of the fact, that such an organisation should state that sexual violence against people with disabilities in residential institutions is prevalent? Research highlighted the difficulty women with learning difficulties had in gaining access to medical, psychological and legal help when sexually abused as there was a culture of disbelief. Will the Minister examine that issue because the rape crisis network and CARI have expressed concern about it? Is he concerned at the statement that the greater the level of disability the greater the risk of sexual violence — in most cases this refers to rape?

Anybody would be concerned and the Government would be especially so if there were substantiated allegations of sexual violence against residents in any institution. If the Deputy or those organisations which have made statements have evidence to substantiate these allegations I will investigate them.

The Minister of State should be concerned that such bodies as the rape crisis network and CARI would publicly make such statements about these places, rather than looking for information on specific events which these organisations may not have permission to reveal. In such circumstances many families would not reveal that information because of the difficulties it might create for the victims. There is an onus on the Minister to investigate the statements of eminent bodies which suggest that sexual violence is prevalent in such institutions.

As I said in my reply, Dr. Dermot Walsh was an inspector for many years, and we now have a new inspector, Dr. Teresa Carey. She regularly inspects all aspects of care in our institutions, as did Dr. Walsh for many years. I will bring to her attention the statements made by these bodies, and if there is any substance to the allegations, I will do my best to ensure they are examined.

It is clear that if this is happening, it is without the knowledge of the institutions. If there is a problem, the institutions may not be fully aware of it. The inspector may call annually to examine books and so on, but the concern is that if something is happening without the institutions knowing of it, it may not come to the attention of the inspector.

I do not want to delay the House, but as the Deputy knows, allegations such as those to which he refers are extremely difficult to prove. Allegations have been made in the past which have not been substantiated. I have responsibilities to the employees in the institutions as well as to patients, and I am aware of unsubstantiated allegations made against specific people in institutions. I am also aware, as is the Deputy, of certain cases where unsubstantiated allegations were made against some employees. That causes major problems, not only for the employees but for their families and the health boards. One has to be extremely careful in examining any of these allegations.