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The Death of Peter McKenna At Leas Cross Nursing Home: Open Letter To The HSE

category national | health / disability issues | news report author Monday December 05, 2005 11:55author by Kathy Sinnott Report this post to the editors

I wish to express my serious concerns regarding the recent publication by the H.S.E. of the Hynes report on the death of Peter McKenna and related matters. Peter McKenna was 60 years old and had Down syndrome. He lived in St Michael's House until he was moved against the family's wishes to Leas Cross Nursing Home where he died.

It is most regrettable that St. Michael’s House, an organisation which enjoys a reputation for high standards of care, continues to deny its culpability in the manner of this man’s passing. It is further regrettable that it is doing so by means of a highly paid PR company which is being funded by public monies. Such funds should be utilised solely for the development of much needed services for people with learning disability. These orchestrated and strenuous denials further add to the pain the family is already living with following their brother’s unnecessarily painful and untimely death at Lea’s Cross.

It is clear from the Hynes report that St. Michael’s House senior administrators failed to report the complaints they had received about Lea’s Cross Nursing Home when forcing the family to accept Mr. McKenna’s placement there by means of the High Court. At no time did these administrators reflect to the judge the information they had received about the inadequate standards of care at Lea’s Cross from St. Michael’s House staff and families of clients who had been placed there prior to Peter being sent to this nursing home. The judge ruled against the wishes of the family on the basis of the information he was presented with in the court. The use of the Ward of Court status by senior administrators from St. Michael’s House to force their will on Peter McKenna’s family is an abuse of this process, an issue which I would urge the High Court to re-examine in light of what happened to Mr. McKenna. As a parent of a person with a learning disability, I would caution anyone in similar circumstances to consider the facts of the Peter McKenna case before allowing their child to become a Ward of Court. This family was brow-beaten and bullied into accepting a placement against their wishes by an organisation which withheld significant information from the High Court.

Of equal concern to me are the reports I am receiving of the intimidation and bullying of St. Michael’s House clinical and frontline staff members who complained about the use of this nursing home both prior to Mr. McKenna’s placement there and following his death. I understand one senior clinical staff member is taking a case to the Employment Appeals Tribunal having complained to the Minister of Health and Children about Mr. McKenna’s treatment and a "culture of bullying" in the organisation. He was subsequently subjected to a campaign of vilification by these same senior administrators who oversaw Mr. McKenna’s care. These acts of bullying and intimidation are not the actions of agents of the state about whom the HSE can feel proud. If we have learned anything from the recent Ferns report it is that we can no longer unquestioningly entrust the care of our vulnerable citizens to institutions which view themselves as beyond scrutiny and reproach.

I am calling on the HSE to take the necessary action to address the underlying issues not dealt with adequately in the Hynes report. The report does not go far enough in exposing the culture that brought about the circumstances of Mr. McKenna’s death. The HSE should implement measures that will ensure that this dreadful plight does not befall any other families when they are at their most vulnerable. In addition, I believe that the time has come for a closer examination of how St. Michael’s House conducts its business and utilises the huge sums of public money which it receives from the State. There is dismay among my colleagues at the inequitable funding arrangements enjoyed by voluntary agencies, which receive most of their funding from public monies with very little accountability (an issue which was highlighted on a recent Primetime programme). As an MEP, I will be following this case closely from a European perspective.

Yours truly,
Kathy Sinnott MEP
European Parliamentary Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
European Parliamentary Committee on Employment and Social Affairs
European Parliamentary Intergroup on Disability, Vice President
European Parliamentary Intergroup on Family and Child Protection, Vice President
European Parliamentary Intergroup on Bioethics, Vice President

author by Terrypublication date Tue Dec 06, 2005 18:38author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The Hynes report in full can be found on the HSE website. See the URL below

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author by eeekkkpublication date Wed Dec 07, 2005 03:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors


"Sadly, in 2000, St Michael’s House did not have the facilities or resources to care for Mr McKenna, and other clients, with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. St Michael’s House had been lobbying for several years for resources to provide a specialised Alzheimer’s unit for its clients but unfortunately, this unit was not completed until 2002. It had been the hope and indeed the commitment of St Michael’s House to the family of Mr McKenna that he would have the first place in the new unit. St Michael’s House had been providing care to Mr McKenna for 23 years in what the family has described as a “superb” manner.

St Michael’s House genuinely believed that it was in Mr McKenna’s best interests and safety that he be transferred to Leas Cross as St Michael’s House did not have the nursing facilities to care for him. The proposal to transfer Mr McKenna to Leas Cross was made in good faith.

Leas Cross in October 2000 had 35 residents and was used extensively by the main hospitals and the Northern Area Health Board. St Michael’s House used Leas Cross on a regular basis between 1998 and 2000 for short-term and long-term breaks. An experienced senior social worker monitored the service on a monthly basis and St Michael’s House staff were in Leas Cross on a regular basis.

During discussions the family advised St Michael’s House that they were unhappy with the proposal to transfer Mr McKenna to Leas Cross and St Michael’s House offered to fully fund his care in any other nursing home of the family’s choosing.

The family also advised St Michael’s House that Mr McKenna was a Ward of Court. Consequently the decision with regard to the future care of Mr McKenna was not that of either the family or St Michael’s House. The President of the High Court appointed an independent ‘Medical Visitor’, a consultant psychiatrist with extensive experience in the provision of services to people with a learning disability. The ‘Medical Visitor’ concluded that St Michael’s House did not have a long-stay facility suitable to Mr McKenna’s needs and, having visited Leas Cross on several occasions, recommended it as a satisfactory placement."

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author by eeekkkpublication date Wed Dec 07, 2005 03:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"An independent report into Mr McKenna's death commissioned by the Health Service Executive was given to the McKenna family last week.

The report found that the assessment of Leas Cross as being suitable for Mr McKenna was critical and that the home was not in a position to fully care for his needs.

Dan Moore, the half brother of Mr McKenna, said that for the family the matter was still not closed.

He claimed that St Michael's House, which transferred Mr  McKenna to Leas Cross, was still in denial over its responsibility in the affair.

However, the McKenna family say that they are prepared to meet management at St Michael's House to discuss the handling of the case. 

Ms Harney expressed regret that it took five years from the death of Mr McKenna to the publication of a report into the circumstances of his care."

The Health Minister said that while there had been progress in implementing some of the recommendations in the Hynes Report into the affair, she urged the HSE to complete the implementation process as quickly as possible."

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author by eeekkkkpublication date Wed Dec 07, 2005 03:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"The controversy surrounding Leas Cross nursing home continues, following confirmation by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, that health authorities had received a report critical of the standard of care provided by the home as early as last autumn.

The preliminary report by the former head of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, Martin Hynes, is thought to highlight the unusually high mortality rates in Leas Cross, as well as low standards of care and a poor inspection regime.

It was originally commissioned following the death of a patient, Peter McKenna. Mr McKenna, who had Down's syndrome and Alzheimer's disease, had been transferred to Leas Cross from St Michael's House, despite objections from his family that it was not a suitable setting. He died 13 days later.

The full report was completed earlier this month and Health Minister, Mary Harney, has said it will be published at the end of the month."

author by eeekkkkpublication date Wed Dec 07, 2005 03:24author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Compiled Irish coverage here:

author by eeekkkpublication date Wed Dec 07, 2005 04:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors


"The factual evidence provided to Mr. Hynes by St. Michael's House is dealt with by way
of an addendum to the final report. The final report contains criticisms of St. Michael's
House that are withdrawn in the addendum. The presentation of a final report with an
addendum is confusing, contradictory and unfair. Mr. Hynes did not interview the staff involved in the care of Mr. McKenna. He did not seek expert medical opinion in considering the course of Alzheimer's disease in people
with Down's syndrome.

In its conclusion, the report ignores the fact that the proposal to transfer Mr. McKenna to Leas Cross was endorsed by an independent medical expert appointed by the High Court who visited that nursing home and deemed it suitable for Mr. McKenna's needs. Neither does the report highlight the fact that, due to his wardship, the decision to transfer Mr. McKenna was a matter for the President of the
High Court who ordered the transfer "immediately and as a matter of urgency".

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