‘Urgent and detailed’ review of files on children with autism to take place

‘Urgent And Detailed’ Review Of Files On Children With Autism To Take Place
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD (Julien Behal Photography/PA), © PA Media
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By James Ward, PA

The Department of Health is to undertake a review of all cases where dossiers on children with autism who were involved in legal actions against the State were kept.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said on Friday that “some files were clearly kept” following the allegations that emerged in an RTÉ Investigates programme this week.


Taoiseach Micheál Martin earlier called on Minister Donnelly to review the policy which saw his department create dossiers on special needs children and their families.

Some files clearly were kept, as was reported on Prime Time


Speaking on Friday, Mr Donnelly said: “It is absolutely vital that parents and that those using our health system or social care services can fully trust them.


“It’s a system that’s there to support them and protect them.

“I watched the Prime Time investigates programme last night. The allegations being reported on are very serious, and I am treating them as such.

“So today I’ve instructed the department to do a very urgent, and a very detailed review of all of the cases involved and look at all of the allegations as they pertain to the behaviours, covered in the covered in the programme.

“We need to assess the facts, that work we’ll continue through the weekend and continue into next week.”


Doctor consultations

Mr Donnelly told RTÉ News: “Some files clearly were kept, as was reported on Prime Time, and this is exactly why I’ve instructed the department today to conduct a detailed review of all of the cases, because we need to know.

“We need to have the facts, we need to know when the periods are that are involved, what the cases are, and how many of these cases the allegations made pertain to and in what way.”

The RTÉ investigation claimed the Department of Health has been secretly using information from private doctor consultations to create dossiers on children with autism who were involved in legal actions against the State, without their parents’ knowledge.



The revelations were branded “a grievous breach of privacy and trust between it (the State) and some of our most vulnerable citizens” by the Autism charity As I Am.

In a letter to Mr Donnelly on Friday, the charity said: “This information was, the programme outlines, accumulated over time from private clinical consultations with families who were preparing legal action against the State in relation to insufficient educational support for their children.

“Highly sensitive data pertaining to these children’s medical and educational records informed these dossiers’ contents, gathered without their families’ knowledge or consent.

“Items including psychiatric assessments and school report cards on at least 48 children were contained within these documents; actively collated and shared to aid the Department with a covert legal strategy to leverage against litigating families during allegedly “dormant” court cases.”

The letter calls for parents to be informed if their data is being held by the Department and for a dedicated support line, staffed by counsellors, to be set up for those affected.

Medical records


On the passing of children’s medical records to the department, Mr Donnelly said: “Certainly any parent who is going to see a clinician is fully entitled to the view that the the session that their child is having with that clinician, be it a psychologist, a occupational therapist, whatever it is, that that is confidential.

Secretary General at the Department of Health, Robert Watt, wrote an open letter on the subject on Friday, in which he acknowledged “with regret the distress that headlines from this programme has generated”.

He added: “I would like to reassure all parents, families and interested parties that the department has never unlawfully held sensitive medical and educational information of children involved in dormant court cases.

HSE to investigate handling of dossiers on familie...
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“The Minister for Health is regularly named in litigation, and one of the duties of the Department of Health is to manage cases effectively on behalf of the state, which sometimes includes review of sensitive information in order to settle or defend a case.”

It adds: “We take the allegations made last night extremely seriously and the Taoiseach has today announced that a multi-disciplinary team will now be formed to consider the issues raised with the aim of understanding fully what happened here.

“We will remain in contact with stakeholders and families affected over the coming weeks and provide an update on progress in due course.”

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