The body regulating health and social care workers in Ireland is to criminally prosecute two women for claiming to be registered therapists, the first case of its kind since the agency was set up 15 years ago. Coru, which oversees a wide range of professions including social workers, dieticians and physiotherapists, alleges the women falsely claimed to be a speech and language therapist and an occupational therapist while operating a business together in Cork. Both professions are “protected titles” meaning holders must be registered with Coru in order to practice, similar to the requirement that doctors be registered with the Medical Council or solicitors with the Law Society.
The accused are both directors of Bright Spots, a Cork company which offers services to vulnerable children, including those with developmental disorders. Lisa O’Driscoll of Ardcahon way, Coolkellure, Legenaghmore, Cork will face a charge of claiming to be a speech and language therapist while Emma Power of Clonlea, Mount Oval, Rochestown, Cork is accused of claiming to be an occupational therapist.
They will appear before Cork District Court on February 26th. If convicted they face up to six months in prison or a maximum fine of €3,000. The case was set in motion after Coru received complaints, including from other therapists, that the women were improperly using protected titles.
This will be the first time Coru has used its powers to bring criminal prosecutions for misuse of titles since legislation was passed to set up the agency in 2005. It typically deals with breaches of professional standards through fitness to practice hearings which are usually held in private and can result in a practitioner being struck off or reprimanded. However, it does not have power to bring a practitioner before a fitness to practice hearing if they are not registered, as is the alleged case against Ms O’Driscoll and Ms Power. In separate civil proceedings earlier this month, the High Court ordered the two women to cease providing therapy until they are registered with Coru. They agreed to the conditions and told the court they were working on gaining proper registration. The court heard the women were qualified in speech and language and occupation therapy in the UK but had failed to register in Ireland, meaning Coru could not evaluate their accreditations. Coru told the court it was concerned schools in Cork were engaging the women to provide therapy. It said there were “grave concerns” Ms O’Driscoll and Ms Power were using the title of therapist to attract parents “desperate” to access services for their children.