Department of Health boss pushes back on RTÉ autism dossier allegations

Department of Health boss pushes back on RTÉ autism dossier allegations

Newly appointed secretary-general at Department of Health Robert Watt entering Kildare House to report to the Oireachtas Health Committee today. H told the committee that he called the Director General of RTÉ on the day a programme aired which alleged his Department compiled dossiers on children with autism to "ensure she understood the gravity of the allegations". Photo: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

The Secretary General of the Department of Health says he called the Director General of RTÉ on the day a programme aired which alleged his Department compiled dossiers on children with autism to "ensure she understood the gravity of the allegations".

Robert Watt was before the Health Committee on Wednesday to discuss the allegations contained in a recent RTÉ Primetime programme.

Whistleblower Shane Corr had alleged that dossiers, which apparently included sensitive medical and educational information of children involved in dormant court cases, were compiled and maintained over a number of years by the Department of Health. Mr Watt told the committee that there was no evidence that this practice was ever undertaken.

He told Fine Gael senator Martin Conway that he had phoned Dee Forbes on the day the programme aired to "ensure that she understood the gravity of the allegations".

Mr Watt said that he believed that Ms Forbes "understood the matter" after the call. He said that RTÉ had not offered the Department the chance to appear on the programme to rebut the allegations. He said that the conversation "wasn't aggressive" and he did not attempt to stop the programme from being aired.

"(I called) to ensure that RTÉ understood the seriousness of the allegation and to confirm to them that the allegations were not true."

He said that RTÉ needs to "defend its report" and said that the broadcaster hadn't "produced any evidence to corroborate or support the allegations". He said that there was "no basis for the allegations made against senior officials in the Department". 

He said that he regretted that his department was "not more forceful" in its response to RTÉ and he did not think there was a prima facie case for an independent investigation into the matter.

"Prime Time didn't just allege that there may have been data protection breaches, they made much more serious allegations and I'm here to say that that isn't the case."

He said that his Department was "as uneasy" about the allegations made in the programme as anyone else and said he was concerned that "trust may be eroded" due to the programme.

He said that the review into the allegations were "very, very detailed" and added that he would tell parents of autistic children that "the Department is focused on ensuring that the supports necessary are provided".

"There is no evidence that the department was prying on families or that it gathered information that was beyond instructions as part of the normal defence of a litigation case."

Mr Watt said that he was "surprised" that the Children's Ombudsman would comment on the allegations "seeming to accept they were true without accepting the bona fides of the Department". He said that he had written to the Ombudsman.

Mr Watt reacted angrily to questions relating to evidence given by the whistleblower Shane Corr at a private meeting of the committee last week. He said that if the committee wanted him to discuss those allegations "the Department should have been invited to the meeting", adding that to do so would "not be any version of fair procedure".

Dr Kathleen McLellan told the committee that there is medical information on file on families but it was nearly all obtained through the legal process. She said that in one case fairly recently some information was "inadvertently provided by a clinician" through the HSE, which was a co-defendant in that particular case. 

The HSE clinician in the case had supplied information including one video file which was not sought by the Department, she said. Mr Watt said that the Department did not seek the information.

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.