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Increase in abuse concerns reported to adult safeguarding teams

By Reporter - 14th Jun 2022

In seven out of ten cases, the outcome agreed with the SPT was “reasonable grounds for concern”

The total number of safeguarding concerns reported to the HSE safeguarding and protection teams (SPTs) in 2021 was 11,640, which represented a 10 per cent increase on reported figures from 2020.

According to the National Safeguarding Office (NSO) annual report for 2021, Community Healthcare Organisation (CHO) 7 showed the highest number of concerns reported, at 2,137. This represents 18 per cent of all safeguarding referrals in a CHO that has 15 per cent of the adult population.

As reported in this newspaper, the chronic under-resourcing of the CHO7 SPT relative to its referral rates had previously led to the development of a large backlog of concerns awaiting review ( Medical Independent ).

According to records obtained under Freedom of Information legislation, dated November 2021, the SPT’s principal social worker considered that 16 social worker posts were required for the team to operate without a backlog, but as of June 2022, only 10 social worker posts are funded.

In 2021, the total number of concerns raised for all adults per CHO ranged from 1.95/1,000 population in CHO 2 to 3.99/1,000 population in CHO 7. The national average of 3.25/1,000 population was exceeded in four CHOs (CHO 5, 6, 7, 8).

Overall, the total number of notifications for persons aged over 65 was 3,671; of these, 1,320 were over 80 years. While the overall number of concerns reported for those over 65 years has increased on previous years, it is still “significantly below what would be expected for both community and residential settings”, according to the report.

For adults aged under 65, the most significant category of alleged abuse was psychological (46 per cent), followed by physical abuse (34 per cent). This replicates the figures from 2020 and indicates an increase in instances of psychological abuse being associated with another alleged abuse type.

In regard to adults aged 65-79 years, the most significant category of alleged abuse was psychological abuse (42 per cent), physical (25 per cent) and financial abuse (16 per cent).

For adults over 80 years, the most significant category of alleged abuse was psychological (36 per cent), financial (21 per cent), and physical (17 per cent).

In relation to the person allegedly causing concern, in those under 65 years, two out of three cases identified “another service user”. In contrast, for those over 65 years, almost half of the concerns reported “immediate family members”.

In seven out of ten cases, the outcome agreed with the SPT was “reasonable grounds for concern”.

In the forward to the report, HSE National Director of Community Operations Ms Yvonne O’Neill stated;  “The HSE National Service Plan 2022 recognises that further investment is needed in safeguarding and it will be critical that this is within the context of the development of Community Health Networks (CHNs) and Regional Health Areas (RHAs).”

“The HSE believe the recent Safeguarding Ireland report Identifying Risk, Sharing Responsibilities to be seminal in that it sets out the fundamental requirements for a comprehensive approach to safeguarding adults at risk of abuse in the state. These requirements include an all-sector approach to safeguarding overseen by an independent safeguarding authority, underpinned by adult safeguarding legislation.

“The HSE believe that fit-for-purpose integrated safeguarding operations are dependent on these matters being progressed. In the interim, in the absence of a safeguarding authority or legislation, the HSE will work to build safeguarding operations into the future health service by considering safeguarding within the CHN and RHA design phase.”

In 2021 and 2022, according to Ms O’Neill, new posts had been invested by the HSE for safeguarding operations. She added: “Notwithstanding the accepted need for further investment –specifically linked to CHN populations, these posts have provided additional capacity. Even with this extra capacity it is clear that our social workers are dealing with more complex cases, more often.”

According to Mr Tim Hanly, General Manager of the NSO, “The publication of the National Safeguarding Office Report 2021 is firstly a timely reminder of the central position that adult safeguarding plays across our health and personal social care services. This is of particular resonance when we consider the individual stories and experiences behind the activity data and statistics contained in this annual report.

“Its publication also again highlights the vital work of HSE safeguarding social workers working with a range of staff in designated roles. These personnel require primary safeguarding legislation to strengthen practice and support effective interagency collaboration in reaching best conclusions for adults at risk of abuse.”

To view the report, visit

For more information on adult safeguarding and the contact details for HSE adult safeguarding teams visit

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