Taoiseach seeks review into secret Department of Health dossiers

Taoiseach seeks review into secret Department of Health dossiers

A spokesperson for Micheal Martin said the Taoiseach would be consulting with relevant ministers with a view to setting up a review of the issues. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Taoiseach has asked for a review into practices within the Department of Health after it was revealed secret dossiers were created on children with autism and their families who were involved in legal actions against the State.

The practice has been dubbed "an abuse of process" which raises data protection and ethical concerns.

An RTÉ Investigates programme reported that private information was maintained in dossiers on children without the knowledge and consent of their parents.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and health minister Stephen Donnelly have discussed the fallout from the programme, but the department has said the dossiers are "normal practice".

A spokesperson for Mr Martin said: “The Taoiseach believes the issues raised merit a further examination and he is consulting with the ministers for Health, Children and Education, and the Minister of State with responsibility for Disability, with a view to setting up a multi-disciplinary team to consider those issues."

The revelations raise significant concerns around compliance with data protection law, as well as ethical concerns, according to Professor Conor O'Mahony, the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection: 

These issues should be explored further. However, even if it were ultimately determined that no laws were broken, that does not make the actions right.

“The actions of the Departments of Health and Education are doing harm to children and families by delaying the provision of services for children," he said.

Cork-based solicitor Ernest Cantillon, who has represented a number of high-profile cases relating to special education, told the Irish Examiner that he has been contacted by concerned former clients.

If what the whistleblower says is correct, I see an argument to say this is an abuse of process if it is in the context of litigation.

“The standard practice in education cases is that if you are suing the HSE or the department, in respect of your client who might have been a patient of a hospital, the HSE asks can it access the file.

“They don’t go poking their nose into it without consent. 

"It is certainly not normal practice for someone to breach doctor-patient confidentiality.”

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