Over 3,000 complaints to Ombudsman on public services

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall

The Ombudsman received more than 3,000 complaints about providers of public services last year, including an increase in complaints about local authorities linked to planning and housing and 115 complaints from asylum seekers.

The report, published today, also shows the number of complaints received about nursing homes has doubled.

In the 2017 annual report, Ombudsman Peter Tyndall also drew attention to what he said were failures in relation to meeting the mobility needs of disabled people, claiming he would be making further representations to seek a resolution to “the current, completely unacceptable, position”.

According to the report, 3,021 complaints were received overall last year of which 79% were closed within three months.

Of the 1,542 cases that were substantively examined, 27% were fully upheld, 3% were partially upheld, assistance was provided in 14% of cases, and 56% were not upheld.

According to the report: “Government Departments/Offices sector is the largest source of complaints (at 31.5% compared to 38.4% in 2016), followed by Local Authorities (28.2% compared to 27.6%) and the Health and Social Care Sector (20.1% compared to 19.7%).

Of the 953 complaints made against the Government Departments/Offices, 655 were against the Department of Social Protection, 87 against the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, 65 against the Revenue Commissioners and 32 against the Department of Justice and Equality.

In the report, Peter Tyndall said the number of complaints remained broadly the same as 2016, but the number of systemic and own initiative investigations undertaken “reached new highs”.

He referred to the investigation into the way in which the Department of Justice and Equality administered the Magdalene Restorative Justice Scheme covered in a previous report, leading to the announcement last April from the Justice Minister that he will implement all of the recommendations in that ‘Opportunity Lost’ report.

I will continue to work with the Department to avoid any further delay in implementation,” said Mr Tyndall.

Some 109 of the 852 Local Authority complaints were against Dublin City Council, with 72 against Cork County Council and 66 against Cork City Council.

There were 538 complaints against the HSE or bodies acting on its behalf and 246 of these were about hospitals. There were 70 complaints relating to Tusla, 44 complaints against the Road Safety Authority, and 35 against the Law Society of Ireland.

There were 202 complaints against educational bodies, while the number of complaints relating to private nursing homes doubled to 63.

On the mobility needs of disabled people, the Ombudsman said the Motorised Transport Grant and the Mobility Allowance schemes were both discontinued when his predecessor, Emily O’Reilly, found that they were in breach of Equal Status legislation.

“The promised successor scheme is now many years overdue,” he said. “

This problem is compounded by the fact that the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers Scheme, which provides tax concessions, has narrow and unhelpful access criteria.”

He said it was with a “growing sense of frustration and disappointment” that the bill is listed for the spring/summer session, but the head of it had not yet been published.

He also referred to “the low number of complaints about Part 3 of the Disability Act” as “very disappointing”.

Case studies

Transfer delay

A man complained about a 12-day delay in arranging a transfer for his late brother from Letterkenny University Hospital to University Hospital Galway for a urology review. His brother’s condition deteriorated before a transfer occurred and he later died.

The man felt that not enough was done to ensure the transfer happened. In addition, his brother suffered a number of falls while he was in hospital. The family complained that they were not told about all the falls.

According to the Ombudsman: “It was clear that there was no agreed protocol covering the procedure for the transfer of patients between the two hospitals. The consultant had little involvement in the transfer and all dealings were by telephone which resulted in serious communication issues.

The hospital group committed to addressing the issues raised.

Woman warned

An 18-year-old girl who was warned over leaving her rural asylum accommodation to complete her education in Dublin led the Ombudsman to ask RIA to review the case.

The woman applied for asylum as a minor and started in fifth year in school in Dublin in 2016 living with her aunt, but that didn’t work out. In April 2017 she was assigned to a regional direct provision accommodation centre. The manager facilitated her travelling to Dublin for school during the week then back to the centre for the weekend until she completed fifth year. She was absent from her centre on weekdays for several weeks and RIA issued her with a warning letter.

The Ombudsman said RIA’s decision appeared to inconsistent with its policy of keeping residents in accommodation close to other family members in the country and facilitating continuity of education.

RIA granted the woman a transfer to a Dublin accommodation centre.

Record failure

A woman complained about a problem she was having accessing services for regular check-ups on her feet.

She was diabetic and there was a risk of amputation of her toes if her feet were not checked regularly.

When she contacted the Ombudsman it had been six months since her last appointment. She said she received a letter telling her that she would not be offered an appointment for the foreseeable future.

The HSE said a failure to update the woman’s computer record after her last assessment resulted in her remaining a low-risk patient and therefore not receiving any future appointments.

Following the Ombudsman’s contact with the HSE, the error was noticed and her priority was updated.

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