The State has extended the deadline for women to apply for return of their medical records under a State scheme set up to compensate survivors of symphysiotomy following objections to the original February 29 deadline.
The Symphysiotomy Payment Scheme had published a notice on its website advising applicants to the scheme that they had until Monday to request return of their documents, after which records would be shredded.
However after objections were raised, the State now says women have until March 20 “to decide how they would like the scheme to act”.
However, there is some unease among legal experts that documents will eventually be shredded. Solicitor Wendy Lyon, who represents a number of the women who underwent symphysiotomies, said it was “clear that the destruction of documents is not in keeping with the responsibilities of the payment scheme”.
“I don’t think they should be destroying any documents,” said Ms Lyons. “And I think they should be contacting applicants individually and letting them know what their intention is [shredding] rather than publishing it on a website.”
Ms Lyon said one of her concerns was that women would require the documentation/medical records down the line for other purposes, but they would no longer be available.
When the Irish Examiner contacted the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) yesterday to ask if destruction of medical records raised data protection concerns, they said the office had examined the issue “this week” and sought additional information from Judge Maureen Harding Clarke, the assessor of the SPS.
They said Judge Clarke had “since clarified” to their office that she had undertaken “a series of actions” designed to ensure that all of the applicants “will receive adequate and direct written notice of their options in relation to their personal data” — in other words, that the women would be advised in writing that they could seek the return of their documentation “or have the assessor delete or shred it”.
As of February 12, 368 offers have been accepted by women who applied to the scheme and 356 awards have been made, with payments of more than €26m to date, according to figures from the Department of Health. The scheme, which is worth €34m, accepted 572 applicants by the closing date of January 14.
The redress scheme was established by the Government to compensate women who underwent symphysiotomies in Irish hospitals between 1940 and 1990.
The procedure involved cutting the pelvic bone to create more space during childbirth and was favoured over caesarean sections by some doctors as it would enable women to go on to have larger families.
The department said any destruction of documents submitted to the scheme, “in line with Section 46 of the Terms of the Scheme, would be undertaken solely to ensure the confidentiality of applicants”.
They said it was “is important to note that only copy medical records have ever been received by the scheme, the originals of which remain with hospitals or possibly with a solicitor if providing assistance to an applicant”.
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