HSE officials unable to answer questions about treatment of Camhs whistleblower

Dr Ankur Sharma’s concerns sparked major review into handling of 1,300 young patients

Senior Health Service Executive (HSE) officials have refused to answer questions from TDs about the treatment of the whistleblower who revealed the sub-standard care provided in young mental health patients in Kerry.

Members of the Oireachtas health committee asked whether the whistleblower, Dr Ankur Sharma, had been asked to take time off from South Kerry child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) after his disclosures and been re-assigned to other duties.

HSE chief operating officer Anne O’Connor said there was a “continuing process of engagement” with the whistleblower and it was therefore inappropriate to answer questions on him at this time.

She said HSE chief executive Paul Reid had written to Dr Ankur thanking him for his actions and Dr Sharma had replied.

A review into the treatment of Dr Sharma is being undertaken internally by a member of HSE human resources staff, she said, adding that the review was preliminary and the outcome would determine what happened next.

Dr Sharma, whose concerns sparked a major review into the handling of the cases of 1,300 young mental health patients, has said he was “sidelined” when he raised issue on his appointment to the service in September 2020.

Not fair to discuss

At the committee on Wednesday, Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane asked Michael Fitzgerald, chief officer of Cork Kerry Community Services, whether Dr Sharma was asked to take time off and reassigned to other duties after his disclosures. Mr Fitzgerald declined to comment, saying it was not fair to discuss specific cases in great detail.

Mr Cullinane said a culture of transparency and accountability was lacking at the top of the HSE and that the whistleblower was treated very shabbily.

He said it was unacceptable that officials were not answering questions on the matter. He also questioned whether it was appropriate for the HSE to investigate it internally.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall also asked about Dr Sharma’s treatment. Mr Fitzgerald said he did not want to go into specific details as there was “ongoing correspondence” on the issue.

Ms O’Connor said officials did not feel they can answer the questions as there was a “continuing process of engagement” with the whistleblower.