Health and care services

Adult Safeguarding Bill

Health Minister Robin Swann has pledged to bring forward an Adult Safeguarding Bill for Northern Ireland to help protect care home residents and the vulnerable people following a number of failings within care homes.

Robin Swann’s commitment was made in response to the publication of the first report from the independent review examining the health and care system’s response to care failings at Dunmurry Manor Care Home. The topic of abuse of adults in care has also been to the fore in Northern Ireland due to allegations of abuse in Muckamore Abbey Hospital, where the PSNI identified 1,500 crimes on one ward alone through CCTV footage.

The most notable of the findings of the review into failings at Dunmurry Manor is that “adult safeguarding in Northern Ireland has diminishing persuasive power because its practice has strayed too far from the policy intentions of 2015 and from residents’ human rights”. The review, carried out by social care experts CPEA, was commissioned by the Department for Health after the publication of the Commissioner for Older People’s ‘Home Truths’ report on Dunmurry Manor. CPEA also noted that current safeguarding processes “did not actively contribute” to the maintenance of residents’ safety and that families’ voices were continuously ignored.

The review contains eight proposed actions to combat the responsive failure of the health and care system:

  • the establishment of an Adult Safeguarding/Adult Protection Change Programme;
  • the assertion of adult safeguarding and protection principles;
  • a human rights-based framework;
  • the drafting of an Adult Safeguarding/Protection Bill;
  • the identification and publicisation of what organisations have the legal power to do;
  • the practice of collective and pragmatic leadership; the introduction of active learning, research and training renewal; and
  • the use of data and information to make a difference.

Speaking in September 2020, Swann thanked the review team for its­ work and stated that he was “committed to making lasting improvements in adult safeguarding” and that the Department would “begin immediately to deliver on the recommendations set out in this report”. Swann announced that he had asked Chief Social Worker Seán Holland to chair a new Adult Safeguarding Transformation Board to “oversee this work and to strengthen the governance around adult safeguarding to achieve a more accountable regional approach”.

After also saying that he intended to “consult on a range of legislative options before Christmas to inform the development of an Adult Safeguarding Bill”, Swann opened consultations on 17 December. The legislative options open for consultation according to the announcement are: defining the scope of the Bill; principles; duties to report and make enquiries; power of entry to interview an adult in private; independent advocacy; an Independent Adult Protection Board; cooperation and information sharing; offences of ill-treatment and wilful neglect; and statutory guidance.

The Minister also confirmed that, in line with the review’s recommendations, the Northern Ireland Adult Safeguarding Partnership will be stood down as the Executive moves towards the establishment of an Independent Adult Safeguarding Board, which will be “at arms-length from the Department”.

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