Newry native appointed Confidential Recipient by HSE

December 22, 2014

Newry born disability activist, Leigh Gath, has been appointed the first Confidential Recipient for whistleblowers by the HSE in the Republic of Ireland. HSE director Tony O’Brien announced her appointment during a summit with disability organisations last week.

The role has been specially created to give whistleblowers, staff and residents with concerns about the safeguarding of vulnerable users of HSE-funded services an independent body to voice their concerns to without fear of reprisal.  The appointment comes in the wake of the recent shocking expose by RTE’s Investigations Unit of the abuse of three elderly residents at the HSE-run Áras Attracta home in Swinford, Co Mayo.

From her days as a boarder in Fleming Fulton school in Belfast, where Leigh describes herself as a “thorn in the side” of the school’s authorities, the thalidomide survivor has spent most of her adult life campaigning for the rights of the disabled.

In 2012, she forced the Irish government into a u-turn on a decision to cut disability services after she led a sleep-out in front of the Dáil protesting against the proposed cuts.

The inspirational mother of two is also an acclaimed author who made waves in the literary world with her compelling memoir, “Don’t Tell Me I Can’t – The Triumphant Story of a Thalidomide Survivor”,  published in 2012. The book spans Leigh’s life as a determined, rebellious woman, who, despite her condition, overcame prejudices, escaped an abusive relationship and raised two children single-handedly before finding love for a second time with her husband, Eugene Gath, who she met through the thalidomide community.

The Examiner caught up with Limerick-based Leigh as she enjoyed a well earned break in her hometown before she embarks on her new role.  She told us she is “delighted” to have been chosen for a role many have said was “made for her.”

“The creation of a role like this has been a long time coming,” said Leigh.

“There is a real need for whistleblowers to have an independent, confidential recipient who can deal with allegations and ensure they are relayed in the right direction.  Often it has been the case that the concerns of whistleblowers were not properly routed or investigated or that there were too many negative consequences of highlighting abuse – the risk of losing your job or being castigated for exposing concerns.”

According to Leigh, her appointment has also come along at the right time as, having recently completed treatment for breast cancer, the unstoppable campaigner was seeking a new challenge in life.

Her  nomination as Confidential Recipient has been widely welcomed and supported by advocacy groups with Health chief Tony O’Brien saying he had taken the step “of appointing someone who has been an excellent critic of the HSE and a fearless advocate across two continents; even being arrested for her trouble in the hope that it will give people the confidence to come forward and say to her things they may not say in present circumstance, to the manager of their facility, a national director, or myself.”

Leigh will take up the position today (Monday) and will have skilled staff who have had no prior engagement with the health service, as well as dedicated premises and will be in receipt of a formal legal delegation from Mr O’Brien giving her authority throughout the health service under the powers vested him as chief executive of the HSE.