James Reilly: small percentage

DOZENS of health service staff have been sacked or suspended from duty for offences ranging from drug abuse to fraud, stealing from psychiatric patients and even being members of a terrorist organisation.

In the past five years, at least 34 staff members lost their jobs or faced suspension on foot of serious or criminal offences, figures released to the Sunday Tribune reveal.

A list of total suspensions from duty, including relatively less serious offences, reveals that since 2004, a total of 89 employees were instructed to take time off work.

Of serious incidents, the most common included seven cases of sexual or indecent assault, five cases each of theft and fraud offences, four of patient and elder abuse and four of inappropriate conduct.

Staff also felt the disciplinary sting of HSE management over allegations of drug use, sexual harassment, the inappropriate use of the internet and gross negligence.

The Dublin Mid-Leinster branch of the HSE reported three criminal offences by members of staff which included being a member of an illegal organisation, assault and a prosecution under Section 18 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Amendment Act 1990.

However, while many of the more serious offenders are criminally prosecuted, not all offences which warrant suspension end up before the courts.

For example, officials in HSE Dublin North East reported a total of 19 incidents over a five-year period but in a detailed breakdown, it explained that it had "three employees who were dismissed, four employees who were placed on administrative leave and 13 employees who were placed on leave with pay. We are aware that nine of these cases were suspected criminal offences."

The HSE South reported that one former staff member was dismissed and prosecuted through the criminal courts for the theft of money both from the HSE revenue account and the patient private property account (PPPA) in a psychiatric hospital.

A PPPA is an account, controlled by the HSE, to hold the money and property of patients in long-stay care.

The HSE West reported an incident, unrelated to the individual's employment, involving an indecent assault in a different county to the location of their job.

"The individual's employment had absolutely no bearing on the offence. There were previous convictions for indecent assault before the person took up employment," it stated.

"These facts were unknown to the employer at the time as the individual did not admit them in the matter of his application for the position." That individual later found himself prosecuted in a jury court.

Another case in the HSE South referred to the "termination" of a recruitment process involving an individual "in relation to [an] offer of a permanent post and struck off professional register". That matter, which involved charges of theft, fraud, gross negligence and controlled drug use, also ended up in court.

Of the 89 people suspended from their positions over a five-year period the vast majority – 72 employees – were paid while the rest went unpaid or partly paid.

Fine Gael's health spokesman Dr James Reilly, said: "An organisation that employs 113,000 people can expect to have a certain small percentage who will cross the line, but we need to be reassured that ongoing practices are in place to protect the vulnerable, and to seek reassurance that proper monitoring is in place for offences,
particularly those against a person," he said.

"Garda clearance is crucial and no stone should be left unturned in relation to the protection of people, particularly psychiatric patents and children in care. The threshold must be a lot higher for health-service employees."