Review finds no evidence of secret dossiers on children with autism

RTÉ investigation claimed Department of Health kept dossiers on children suing State

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly: The internal review found that the department, in one instance, in the context of defending a legal case, had inadvertently received a clinical report regarding a patient. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly: The internal review found that the department, in one instance, in the context of defending a legal case, had inadvertently received a clinical report regarding a patient. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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A Department of Health review has rejected claims made recently in an RTÉ investigation that it had compiled secret dossiers on children with autism who are suing the State.

However, the review found that the Department of Health in one instance, in the context of defending a legal case, had inadvertently received a clinical report regarding a patient directly from a clinician.

One video recording of a child with disabilities was held in another file, but the department said this had been provided by a child’s solicitor as part of a supplemental affidavit.

Last month, an RTÉ Investigates programme reported that the department had kept dossiers for years without the knowledge or consent of parents, and with the co-operation of the HSE and the Department of Education.

Based on the testimony of a serving civil servant, the programme said files held directly sourced information about confidential consultations children and parents had with doctors and other professionals.

The department’s internal review, carried out with outside legal support and ordered after the programme, says there was “no evidence” that the Department of Health was “secretly compiling dossiers”.

Defendant

However, the review looked at 29 cases still under way, but not at 200 or so other completed cases where the Minister for Health was named as a defendant in cases taken against the State, including those around special needs.

Government departments regularly co-operated on legal cases, the review said, adding that it is normal practice for defendants to share appropriate information.

“Having reviewed the relevant files, there is no evidence that the Department of Health was secretly compiling dossiers on children with autism involved in special education needs as alleged,” it said.

Files held may contain pleadings, correspondence and/or reports received via the plaintiff’s solicitor in the course of the litigation, along with service updates sought from the Health Service Executive.

In cases where the State is being sued for failing to offer appropriate services, “it is appropriate for the department to establish the actual level of service being provided,” the review went on.

Updates

Such updates are held on case files and the department has been “advised that in the absence of service updates, it would be difficult to advise on the settlement of cases”.

“Furthermore, having reviewed the relevant files, there is no evidence that the Department of Health is prying into families who took High Court cases for the handling of its defence,” it went on.

No evidence has been found to suggest that Health directly sought medical or clinical reports from clinicians. Service updates are sought in some instances from HSE service managers.

In one case, a medically-qualified HSE employee, before ultimately complying with a manager’s instruction, asked if a child’s family had given permission for information to be shared by the HSE with Health.

Replying, the Department of Health confirmed it had not contacted the patient or their parent, saying it wanted a service update before deciding whether to contact the family about “long-dormant legal proceedings”.

Such an approach was a “standard and legally-supported practice for the HSE” to “confidentially update” the department. The information request was later withdrawn.