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Responding to the RTÉ Investigates report that revealed the Department of Health had gathered sensitive and confidential information about families taking cases against it, Róisín Shortall TD, co-leader of the Social Democrats, has called for the Secretary General and the Health Minister to appear before the Health Committee and Dáil respectively to answer questions.

Deputy Shortall commented:

“The principal concern in this instance is the modus operandi of the Department of Health in preparing and defending cases taken against them.

“These cases were taken when the State failed to meet its obligations under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 and the Disability Act 2005. The Department undertook to gather confidential information on these families, presumably to undermine their cases and give the Department an unfair advantage in litigation. It puts the State in a David and Goliath position relative to families who are fighting to get adequate services for their children.

“This raises extremely serious concerns, for which the Secretary General of the Department and the Minister both need to answer. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Breaches of data protection laws
  • Whether doctors and other health professionals were required to breach patient confidentiality
  • Misuse of HSE’s power as an employer to pressure doctors to share information
  • How the sensitive information was stored and the access which a number of Department staff had to it
  • The role of the Department of Education in sharing sensitive information about students, including school grades and teacher reports

“This behaviour involved three major State bodies – the Department of Health, the HSE, and the Department of Education. It raises the question of whether this is a widespread practice that may also have occurred in other Departments and agencies where claims are concerned.

“Furthermore, there are questions to be asked about individual doctors and other professionals who complied with the State’s requests and breached patient confidentiality. What pressure was applied to them, and what protections are in place to prevent it happening in the future?

“I have written already to the Health Committee Chair to request that an invitation be issued to the Secretary General Robert Watt, and am also calling for Minister Donnelly to make a statement and answer questions in the Dáil next week on this matter.”

March 25, 2021

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