Ombudsman to take action against Department of Health over records
Case relates to complaints against hospital
The court proceedings relate to the ombudsman’s investigation into complaints made about a review commissioned by the Department of Health into abuse incidents which occurred in the past at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.
The ombudsman’s office is expected to take court action against the Department of Health seeking to force it to release records needed to complete an investigation.
This is the first time the ombudsman will use new powers introduced in 2012 which allow the office to apply to the Circuit Court for an order compelling a Government body to release information.
The case relates to the ombudsman’s investigation into complaints made about a review commissioned by the department into abuse incidents which occurred in the past at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.
The review, which was carried out by retired judge TC Smyth, was commissioned by former minister for health Mary Harney to determine whether a wider inquiry was needed. In the event, Ms Harney decided against this course of action.
Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said her officials sought a copy of the review as well as interview transcripts after receiving complaints. However, the department argued it could not comply because the review was independent.
Ms O’Reilly said this was one of three refusals her office received when attempting to carry out investigations last year. In relation to an investigation into complaints by two chronically disabled women who had to pay for private nursing home care because the HSE did not provide public care, the HSE refused to provide details of the settlements it had made in other, similar cases. It said the department did not agree to release the information. More than 300 cases are currently being taken against the health service in relation to this issue.
Ms O’Reilly, who clashed frequently with the department during her 10-year tenure, again criticised it when presenting her final annual report yesterday. She said the problem in the department was that people “run scared when something is pointed out to them” and the culture was to “reach for the nearest lawyer when trouble looms”. She said “with a proper, functioning relationship, we would be able to talk like grown-ups”.
The third refusal of information arose from her investigation of complaints arising from the rejection of claims under the Health Repayment Scheme. This was set up in 2006 to repay people who were charged illegally for long-stay hospital care. The HSE provided information but the appeals officer for the scheme refused and also failed to attend at her office after being required to do so, she said. A report on this issue is due shortly.