No wrongdoing by Department of Health in gathering data on children with disabilities, review finds

No wrongdoing by Department of Health in gathering data on children with disabilities, review finds

Shane Corr, a senior civil servant at the Department of Health, went public with details of the secret dossiers. Picture: RTÉ Investigates/RTÉ

There is "no basis for a reasonable belief” the Department of Health committed any wrongdoing by gathering and sharing information about children with disabilities who had taken historic legal action against the State, an independent report has found.

Shane Corr, a senior civil servant at the Department of Health, made a protected disclosure to his employers in February 2020.

Mr Corr disclosed that children with disabilities were allegedly “being monitored covertly by the State” through professionals in healthcare, educational and other settings and that no consent was sought for these activities.

Whistleblower

The whistleblower also raised concerns about the subsequent sharing of this information with other organisations and departments, without the consent of the subject or the subject’s parents or guardians.

Mr Corr went public with his allegations through RTÉ’s Prime Time Investigates in March.

However, an independent review, conducted by Conleth Bradley SC between July and November 2020, and published on Wednesday, found the sharing and collating of this information “does not come within the definition of wrongdoing” under the 2014 Protected Disclosures Act.

“These matters were, in my view, addressed correctly by the parties and there is no basis for a reasonable belief of wrongdoing,” the report states.

The discloser provided the external reviewer with spreadsheets containing personal details of litigants from historic cases.

The report acknowledges that some of the information on the spreadsheets was “sensitive and in some cases refers to what are distressing circumstances”.

“However, given the nature of issues involved in such cases, and having regard to the parties to the litigation, the information on the spreadsheet appears to be consistent with, and typical of, the sort of information which arises in such litigation,” the report states.

I find no basis to suggest wrongdoing arising from the information in these spreadsheets.” 

Mr Corr also highlighted an email to the reviewer between a Department of Health official and a HSE medical official, requesting clinical information on a patient.

The doctor asked if the child’s parents were aware of this and if consent to release the details had been given.

Parents were not aware

The department official confirmed the parents were not aware, said it was standard, legally supported practice for institutions such as the HSE to confidentially update the department on such matters and said it was permitted under data protection legislation.

However, the following day, a different official sought advice from the department’s legal adviser about the disclosure of personal data in specific cases.

The report said this advice was not seen by the reviewer and "in the circumstances" it was recommended the department should confirm whether subsequent legal advice was issued and if it addressed the above issues.

Review of data collection practices

The Data Protection Commission is currently undertaking a review of data collection practices regarding these cases and the department said it “looks forward to the findings of this review and where necessary will make improvements based on their recommendations”.

“The Department of Health is committed to continuing engagement with service providers to improve supports for service users,” a statement by the department said.

It said it "acknowledges with regret" the distress the revelations have generated and that its primary concern is the health and welfare of service users.

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