Call for inquiry into HSE’s handling of vulnerable teen’s legal action

€1 million spent on legal fees in case of girl detained in English psychiatric unit

Independent senator Jillian van Turnhout has called for an investigation into the Health Service Executive's handling of a case involving a teenage girl who was detained in a specialist psychiatric unit in England against her wishes for more than a year and a half.

Ms van Turnhout said the public had a right know why in the region of €1 million was spent on legal proceedings, which could have provided an appropriate placement for the young woman in Ireland.

“It is very important that we investigate the handling of this case and ask the Minister and relevant authorities why these decisions were taken and in whose best interests were they acting?” Ms van Turnhout said.

“State agencies continually highlight legal costs as an issue, but you need only go to court to see some of the cases they are challenging,” she said.


Earlier this week a High Court judge has granted the woman's plea for her return to Ireland following a series of court hearings.

Ms van Turnhout, a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, said she will ask the committee's chairman Jerry Buttimer TD that relevant authorities be held to account over the case.

The young woman, who has a borderline personality disorder, is understood to have returned home and will reside in a psychiatric facility on a voluntary basis.

She has spent almost all of the last four years in various psychiatric units in Ireland and England.

In response to a query over the case, the HSE released a brief statement in which it said it involved “difficult and complex circumstances” which were still subject to oversight by the courts.

“Patients who require specialised treatment not available in this country can be referred to mental health services abroad where clinically indicated. Patients being treated abroad often have a complex and broad range of conditions,” the statement said.

The case itself was before the courts on numerous occasions. Last March, the High Court directed an arrangement should be put in place for her return to Ireland by June 12th last.

The HSE subsequently brought further proceedings arguing her circumstances had changed since the March order.

Those circumstances included a view of some doctors that she could not be kept safe in the Irish services and should remain in the UK unit, where high levels of security could be put in place.

Earlier this week, however, lawyers for the HSE, the woman, her parents and her court-appointed guardian all agreed she had the necessary legal capacity to make decisions regarding her treatment and should be returned to Ireland.

The case has focused attention on the practice of sending vulnerable young people with specialised needs abroad for care and treatment.

Latest available figures show Irish authorities spent about €3.5 million in 2013 on facilities outside this jurisdiction for 10 vulnerable young people due to a lack of services here.

Children’s rights campaigners have argued over many years that these services should be available in Ireland.

The HSE has pledged to develop services to ensure no Irish citizen should need to be sent overseas for a care placement, and the number being placed abroad has been falling over recent years.

But latest figures indicate there is still a lack of specialised treatment programmes for some children with emotional problems or challenging behaviour.

Health authorities have previously pointed out that children placed abroad represent a tiny proportion of more than 6,000 young people in the care or health system.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent