Áras Attracta row between Hiqa and Ombudsman

Hiqa chief calls Ombudsman’s remarks about handling of complaints ‘inaccurate’

Hiqa chief executive Phelim Quinn: his criticism of Ombudsman Peter Tyndall is revealed in documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons.

Hiqa chief executive Phelim Quinn: his criticism of Ombudsman Peter Tyndall is revealed in documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons.

 

The head of one State watchdog has accused the head of another of undermining the reputation and credibility of his organisation in a heated row sparked by the Áras Attracta scandal.

Phelim Quinn, chief executive of the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), sharply attacked Ombudsman Peter Tyndall over what he claimed were “entirely inaccurate” remarks in a radio interview.

The unprecedented spat between the two regulators is apparent in documents obtained by The Irish Times under Freedom of Information legislation.

Mr Quinn wrote to Mr Tyndall in December, a day after the Ombudsman appeared to criticise Hiqa over the handling of individual complaints about care centres in a radio interview. An RTÉ undercover investigation of the Áras Attracta home in Co Mayo, broadcast some days earlier, had revealed serious abuse by staff of residents with intellectual disabilities.

Complaints

If people “then complain to Hiqa rather than the HSE, Hiqa should be passing them on to us and I don’t understand why that hasn’t happened”.

In his letter, Mr Quinn said key elements of Mr Tyndall’s letter were untrue. “We do not have a draft memorandum of understanding with your office”, although there had been talks about drawing up such a document.

Disputed

Mr Quinn also disputed Mr Tyndall’s assertion that his office had been in touch with Hiqa “and we’re waiting on a response”. He said the Ombudsman’s comments “served to undermine the reputation and credibility of Hiqa and significantly misrepresented our established procedures”.

Mr Tyndall, in a replying letter, apologised for his “inaccuracies” and “the difficulties they have caused”. “I now realise the amended draft memorandum had not been sent to your office, and for this I must again apologise. I had wrongly believed that we were awaiting a response from you, rather than the actual position which was contrary to this.”

The two men and their officials met in January and a revised draft of the memorandum of understanding was discussed and drawn up. This says Hiqa’s primary role is regulation, rather than individual complaint-handling, and provides for the transfer of these to the Ombudsman’s office.