The Government has approved the development of a national adult safeguarding policy for the health sector, together with such underpinning legislation as may be required. The policy, when developed, will cover the entire health and social care sector, including statutory health agencies and public, voluntary and private service providers.
The development of policy and associated underpinning legislation in this area is a complex undertaking, and I have previously emphasised the importance of developing a clear, coherent, carefully-considered and implementable policy framework as a basis for any required underpinning legislation. The Department's approach therefore is, before formulating legislation, to undertake the required detailed policy and evidence base development work including appropriate legal research, policy research, public and stakeholder consultation and resource implications analysis.
Evidence base development and policy drafting is progressing well. A high-level Steering Group established to assist my Department in its development of the policy, has held five meetings to date and there has been ongoing stakeholder consultation. Updates and related papers such as discussion papers on the policy content are published regularly on my Department's website. Focus group consultation is being undertaken to ensure that voices of the most directly affected service users are heard and a research evidence project to inform the policy is in train. Major project milestones to date include:
- Government approval to develop the national health sector policy;
- a stakeholder survey on the themes and questions to be covered in the policy;
- formation of the Steering Group assisting in my Department's development of the policy;
- commissioning of a research evidence project to inform the policy;
- commencement of service user focus group consultation (in partnership with the Institute of Public Health) to ensure the voices of those most directly affected are heard;
- further ongoing stakeholder consultation, for example meetings with key stakeholders including the HSE National Safeguarding Office, HIQA, the Mental Health Commission, Safeguarding Ireland, Sage Advocacy and others; frontline site visits and fact-finding visits by Departmental officials; and a major stakeholder consultation workshop on policy content;
- detailed drafting throughout 2019.
Related major milestones in relation to adult safeguarding in the health and social care sector include:
- my recent approval of national standards for adult safeguarding submitted to me jointly by the Health Information and Quality Authority and the Mental Health Commission;
- the anticipated early finalisation of a major revision by the Health Service Executive of its national operational adult safeguarding policy.
Arrangements for the early launch and publication of the new adult safeguarding standards are being finalised. Both the standards and the revised operational policy will be very important in informing the Department’s development of the national health sector policy and identifying possible policy or legislative gaps.
A further significant initiative across all sectors was the Law Reform Commission's commencement in June 2019 of a legal research project on "A Regulatory Framework for Adult Safeguarding", on foot of submissions from various bodies, including from my Department.
It is hoped that a first draft health sector policy will be completed during the first quarter of 2020, and that a public consultation on a published draft policy will be undertaken as soon as possible thereafter. Following analysis and consideration of the feedback obtained through the consultation process the draft policy will be further developed and proposals on the policy will be submitted to Government thereafter.