Rigid interpretations of GDPR hampering adult safeguarding efforts – Senator Colette Kelleher

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Wednesday, 11th December 2019

Rigid interpretations of GDPR hampering adult safeguarding efforts – Senator Colette Kelleher

Rigid and overly-cautious interpretations of GDPR are hampering adult safeguarding efforts.  That’s according to Senator Colette Kelleher who was speaking today (11.12.19) at the launch of a research report ‘Falling Through The Cracks: The case for change, key developments and next steps for adult safeguarding in Ireland’.

Senator Kelleher commissioned the research report, which was produced by Dr Sarah Donnelly, UCD and Dr Marita O’Brien, Independent Researcher.  For the report, the researchers conducted a survey and in-depth interviews with social workers and advocates  involved in adult safeguarding processes.

Commenting at today’s launch, Senator Kelleher said: “This research shows very clearly that the way GDPR is being interpreted by agencies involved in adult safeguarding often lacks basic common sense.  For example, a person may be supported by the Mental Health Service, but the Service cannot share information on the person’s diagnosis, making it extremely difficult for social workers to carry out assessments.

“Agencies or service providers can only use the initials of persons’ names when reporting safeguarding incidents, which poses significant barriers to pattern-forming assessments, where there may be ongoing concerns or multiple incidents relating to one person.

“These rigid and overly cautious interpretations of GDPR are hampering effective information-sharing by the diverse agencies and individuals involved in adult safeguarding, to the detriment of people at risk.  To provide clarity for those involved in adult safeguarding, I am calling on the Data Protection Commissioner to clarify what qualifies as good practice in relation to information-sharing and GDPR. This would enable those working in safeguarding to better protect adults who are vulnerable to harm and abuse.”

Seminar on adult safeguarding

The research report was launched today at a seminar on adult safeguarding, which heard from the Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD;  Justice Mary Laffoy, President of the Law Reform Commission; David Murphy, Assistant Data Protection Commissioner; and Sandra Tuohy, HSE Head of Operations, Services for Older People.

According to Senator Kelleher, the research shows clearly that safeguarding laws need to be introduced to better protect adults who are vulnerable to harm and abuse.

“In addition to overly-rigid interpretations of GDPR, the report shows up a range of failings with current adult safeguarding measures,” she said.  “One serious issue that needs to be addressed is that too much power currently rests with family members, who can control whether a relative in need receives care or not.

“Multiple incidents of coercive control and undue influence by family members were recounted by those interviewed for the research report.  These included situations where adults at risk had consented to home care support, but family members were acting as gatekeepers, preventing service provision through intimidation or threatening behaviour.  Financial exploitation was also a recurring theme.

The report also outlines how the HSE is under-resourced to properly protect adults vulnerable to harm and abuse. In many areas, there are too few social workers available to carry out safeguarding measures, or their caseloads are so high that waiting lists are in operation. Services such as home care, which are effective at early intervention, are not currently adequately provided by the HSE.”


In addition to highlighting failings, the research report points to solutions and practices that ensure adult safeguarding can be effectively done.  Those who participated in the research highlighted factors such as Garda interventions at local level, robust policies and training for bank staff in relation to financial abuse, and the appointment of a designated Safeguarding Liaison Officer in the Department of Social Protection as factors that can contribute to effective safeguarding.

Senator Colette Kelleher is also proposing the establishment of an independent National Adult Safeguarding Authority, to be tasked with ensuring safeguarding referrals are properly investigated.

“A National Safeguarding Authority, which is fully independent and sufficiently mandated with the powers to properly and impartially investigate complaints, would be of vital importance in ensuring adults vulnerable to harm and abuse are better protected,” she said.  “The Authority should have right of entry to nursing homes, where abuse may be happening, as well as the power to direct the HSE or other agencies to provide practical supports.  In addition, we need to see the introduction of mandatory reporting for instances where health and social care professionals witness or suspect instances of abuse are taking place.”

A copy of the ‘Falling Through the Cracks’ report can be downloaded here.