Northern Ireland

Minister considers new vulnerable adult care plan

Health Minister Edwin Poots
Image caption A new policy for caring for vulnerable adults could be drawn up

The health minister is looking into creating new policy to ensure the protection of vulnerable adults in care.

Edwin Poots said he will review the system after the number of people alleging abuse against vulnerable adults was revealed.

Investigative website, The Detail, obtained figures which show 1,184 referrals to health trusts.

The figures are for 2009-2010, the last year for which there is accurate data.

The Detail also discovered that out of the 1,184 referrals almost two-thirds, 750, were considered serious enough for a protection plan to be put in place.

The extent of the number of concerns raised over vulnerable adults in care came to light following the story of a 15-year-old girl whose family allege she was mistreated while in respite care.

Her father Dermod told the BBC that he hopes she dies before him so she will not have to go back into care.

Katie has a rare chromosome abnormality, meaning she has a mental age of around three and is in need of constant care. She is 15 now but in just three years will be classified as a vulnerable adult and become part of that care system.

When complaints are considered serious enough for a protection plan to be implemented, the matter is handed over to the police and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) to investigate.

So far it has not been possible to ascertain how many of these alleged abuses ended up on court or with a criminal conviction. The PSNI turned down a Freedom of Information request on the subject saying it exceeded the "appropriate costs limit". Another re-worded request has been tabled.

When contacted the health minister acknowledged that the provision of care for vulnerable adults was an area of concern and accepted that the current system needs to be reviewed.

"I am acutely aware that behind the statistics there are individual human beings who may have suffered harm at the hands of others, whether intended or because of a lack of knowledge about how to properly deliver the care and support needed," said Mr Poots.

"But I also believe the statistics quoted are an indication of the positive responses made by the Health and Social Care Board and trusts to reports of concerns about possible abuse.

"To this end, my department is working jointly with the Department of Justice, with input from other government departments, to bring forward a policy paper which will set the future direction for adult safeguarding work.

"Such abuse is alas not a new phenomenon and the conversation with the public to raise awareness is an important one."

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