The finding is one of a number of investigations carried out by the Office of the Ombudsman for Children (OCO) last year, with its annual report revealing that it received 1,682 new complaints in 2016 — an increase on the number received the previous year and almost 50% more than the figure for 2010.
The OCO’s annual report, to be launched today, shows that while education accounted for 46% of complaints and child protection and welfare accounted for another 23%, there was a 3% increase in health complaints to 17% and a growth in the number of complaints involving housing.
The case involving the missing faxes was triggered by a complaint from the parents of an 18-month-old named Ciara who was waiting for a referral for a hip scan.
According to the OCO report: “Ciara’s parents told us that the method of referral from one hospital to another was done by fax. This resulted in one hospital sending the referral but the other hospital not receiving it. This delay resulted in the failure to diagnose, in a timely way, her condition which then required urgent treatment before she began to walk.”
Ciara’s parents raised concerns that the referral system may pose a risk to other patients.
The OCO probe found that the administrative practice of faxing hip referrals from one hospital to another resulted in Ciara’s referral being lost.
“Our examination prompted a HSE review and they found that the process of sending and receiving referrals by fax between these two hospitals had resulted in a further 20 infants’ referrals being lost.”
The OCO “informed the highest level of the HSE of the systemic failure that our examination highlighted”, with the HSE committing to improving its services on a national basis.
In another case highlighted in the report, the mother of a 10-year-old boy with a progressive disability complained that she had been on the local authority’s housing list for about seven years and had not been offered accommodation suitable to her son’s needs.
Her first language was not English and she said the local authority had not provided clear information on the housing application process.
The OCO investigation found numerous shortcomings on the part of the council, including that it had incorrectly categorised the family’s application in terms of medical points for seven years. The boy’s family was offered specially adapted accommodation and the council also committed to addressing some of the issues raised by the OCO.
The highest number of complaints to the OCO in 2016 came from the Dublin region and most were made by parents or siblings and other family members.
In the OCO’s annual report, ombudsman Niall Muldoon writes that “another increase this year in the number of complaints received by the office highlights that public bodies have not yet been fully successful in promoting and respecting children’s rights through their actions and decision-making processes”.
He said Tusla “is still primarily operating as a crisis agency” and noted the rise in complaints relating to housing and homelessness.