The Ombudsman launched a blistering attack on the Health Service Executive today, claiming staff put the organisation’s interests before patients and the public.
Emily O’Reilly said excessive secrecy in the health body was a huge issue and claimed that there was something rotten within its system.
Ms O’Reilly highlighted an unpublished case where she attempted to access records but was led on an “'Alice in Wonderland' trip around the legal system” by the HSE.
“I think there is a huge issue around the excessive secrecy and legalism of the HSE,” Ms O’Reilly said.
“It strikes me that it is a cultural thing within the HSE and it is redolent of a body that looks not to the public interest, which is the only reason it’s there, and seeks instead at times to protect its own interests.
“And that’s very wrong.”
Complaints to the Ombudsman last year reached a 10-year high at 2,873, according to the office’s seventh annual report.
Some 26.3% referred to grievances concerning the HSE, down 1.2% on 2008, while 41.9% were complaints against the civil service – up 2.8% on last year.
Ms O’Reilly said that while there were cases of satisfactory care in the HSE, she had come across appalling cases of medical neglect which she claimed were simply unacceptable and had to be highlighted.
The Ombudsman said in recent attempts to access records on payments connected with family law, the HSE was effectively trying to prevent a report being published.
“We were led on what I can only describe as a sort of an 'Alice in Wonderland' trip around the legal system as the HSE effectively tried to prevent that report from being published and that was a huge waste of public money,” she said.
The Ombudsman said there was a “Kafkaesque dance through the courts”, but said she hoped the report would be published shortly.
Ms O’Reilly also referred to recent attempts by the Government to get up-to-date information on the number of children who have died in state care.
“You have the Government wanting information, the ministry, the parliament, the people, and the HSE said no,” she said.
“Even though I am 100% certain that there were any number of legal mechanisms that could have allowed this information to get out.”
The Ombudsman said those sort of records have been routinely released over the last 26 years to her office and elsewhere.
“So there is something rotten within that system,” she said.
The report also revealed complaints against local authorities accounted for 30%, down 0.1%, while grievances about An Post amounted to 1.6%.