Critical staffing deficits in the HSE adult safeguarding and protection team (SPT) covering Co Donegal, during 2020 and 2021, are revealed in documents obtained under Freedom of Information law.
The records outline staffing deficits in the SPT in Community Healthcare Organisation (CHO) 1 (Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan, and Sligo).
On 3 June, CHO 1 stated that the referenced deficits had been addressed. This newspaper had sought comment on a number of occasions since 26 April*.
In February and April 2021, the SPT sought three temporary replacement posts for social workers.
If these posts were not approved, “concerns of abuse will not be assessed leading to high-risk situations,” outlined the business cases. However, the three posts “were never filled”, stated an internal email from an SPT staff member in March 2022. Documents also stated a social work team leader (SWTL) was acting up as a principal social worker (PSW).
CHO 1’s spokesperson stated: “The posts mentioned above have now been filled.” They added: “The PSW post has been permanently replaced. There is a PQSW [professionally qualified social worker] acting up into the social work team leader role in Sligo/Leitrim. The social work team leader post in Donegal has been filled.”
According to a risk entered on the social care/SPT risk register in September 2020, the SPT was operating at 75 per cent capacity since March 2020 due to staff “redeployment”. If staffing fell further due to leave or illness, there was a risk of the SPT “not being able to continue to provide a cohesive service across CHO 1”. This risk was due for review in early 2021.
On 28 June 2021, another staffing risk was recorded for review on 3 July 2021: “Due to 50 per cent reduction in staff there is a significant risk that the safeguarding team may not be in a position to provide a cohesive service across CHO 1. We currently have no staff in Donegal and have lost .5 of our staff in Cavan/Monaghan.
“This will result in a delay in responding to safeguarding notifications… and may result in the establishment of a waiting list of notifications….” Control measures included staff covering Sligo/Leitrim extending cover to Donegal. The principal social worker was “pursuing additional staff urgently”.
According to CHO 1’s spokesperson: “These posts are now filled.” Asked how many staff had been redeployed during the pandemic, the spokesperson responded that two staff members from the SPT had been redeployed for approximately one year – one PSW and one clerical officer grade III staff member.
The spokesperson said there have been two risks added to the risk register in 2022. “One relates to the introduction of the assisted decision making legislation and the other is in relation to reduction in working hours for the team due to the Haddington Road Agreement.”
The SPT was able to respond promptly to abuse concerns and had no waiting list, according to the spokesperson.
HSE/HSE-funded disability and older persons services are required to submit safeguarding concerns to their regional SPT for specialist review and support. SPTs also directly manage complex cases and community referrals, as well as provide training.
A recent HIQA review described “poor” HSE governance and oversight of disability centres in Co Donegal.
*This article was updated on 3 June to include comment from CHO 1.
For more, see news feature Medical Independent