Safeguarding Ireland today highlighted the need to protect vulnerable adults – amid a heightened risk of abuse resulting from the current Covid-19 crisis.

Safeguarding Chairperson Patricia Rickard-Clarke said: “Necessary actions have been taken by Government and health and social authorities to curtail the spread of the virus. Safeguarding Ireland supports these measures and the enormous society-wide effort from businesses to individuals.

“However, the vulnerabilities of adults at risk of abuse, exploitation or neglect are heightened at this time. Safeguarding Ireland encourages authorities and professionals to be aware of them and has written directly to each relevant authority to highlight issues of concern.”

The concerns highlighted include:

Upholding decision-making rights

It is important that vulnerable people are not forced into longer-term residential accommodation due to expediency overriding their wills and preferences. While available facilities, skills and expertise might dictate services that can be offered in the short-term, it is critical that these do not become inappropriate long-term arrangements.

Health and social care services should remain mindful that, if a person has functional capacity to make decisions about their place of care, healthcare or living arrangements – no other person has a legal right to make those decisions on their behalf

Vigilance against Financial Abuse

Helpful ‘Temporary Agent’ arrangements that have been put in place by An Post to facilitate continued access to Social Protection payments at Post Offices for vulnerable adults. However, with flexible arrangements come opportunities for unscrupulous people to take advantage and control over vulnerable people’s finances. There should be strong awareness among An Post, Postmasters and government departments on risks of financial abuse.

Short term payment of bills

In the current challenges, vulnerable adults may have difficulty paying utility bills or rental fees. Safeguarding Ireland suggests that the government direct utility agencies and Landlords to take a flexible approach, on a temporary basis, to payments and bills.

Care in use of language

Terms such as ‘bed blockers’ referring to older people should not be used. While it is appreciated that medical professionals could have to make very difficult choices in these very exceptional circumstances, it is important that all people are treated and spoken about with dignity and respect.

Longer-term need for a National Safeguarding Authority

The current crisis highlights the need for a National Safeguarding Authority to promote and protect the rights of the most vulnerable in society. It is a concern that there is no single Authority with this overarching mandate and it is something that government should consider as an issue of urgency.

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