Department of Health 'disregarding law'

Fri, Nov 23, 2012, 00:00

The Ombudsman has again criticised the Department of Health for failing to comply with the Equal Status Acts.

For the second time in a month, Emily O’Reilly yesterday reported to the Oireachtas that the department was rejecting her recommendation to change a disability scheme to make it compliant with the Equal Status Acts.

In October, Ms O’Reilly was highly critical of the department’s refusal to remove an upper age limit applying to the mobility allowance.

In the latest report, on the motorised transport grant, Ms O’Reilly commented that “there can be no justification for allowing this disregard for the law to continue. We are a society ruled by law.”

The report stems from a complaint by a severely disabled young man whose application for a grant was refused by the Health Service Executive. Upholding the complaint, the Ombudsman found that the HSE’s operation of the grant reflected an approach to disability which was “unduly restrictive, improperly discriminatory and fails to have proper regard to the Equal Status Acts”.

She said the department had failed in its responsibility to oversee the implementation of the scheme and failed to provide the HSE with adequate and clear guidance. The scheme was confined to people who are unable to walk because of a physical disability but should have regard also to the consequences for mobility of psychological or intellectual disabilities”.

The HSE has accepted the recommendations in the report and has approved payment of the grant to the man.

However, the department has rejected her recommendation that the definition of disability for the grant be broadened. As in the case of the mobility allowance, it says acceptance of this recommendation would have serious financial implications for the State.

The report acknowledges the financial pressures on the department but says it has known about the need to bring its schemes into line with the Equal Status Acts for many years.

“Disregarding of the law can never be the ‘right thing’ for citizens or for Government departments.”