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Contested data on autistic children ‘not sought from doctors’
Pic: Shutterstock

21 Apr 2021 / ireland Print

Data on autistic children ‘not sought from doctors’

An internal report carried out by a team in the Department of Health has said there is “no evidence” that the department directly sought reports from clinicians on children with autism who were involved in legal action against the State.

It says, however, that it did “inadvertently” receive such a report in one case.

The team was set up to look into revelations in an RTÉ Prime Time programme last month that the department had gathered the personal data of the children concerned. The Data Protection Commission is carrying out a review of how this information was collected.


The department’s internal review says that there is “no evidence that the Department of Health gathered information that was beyond instructions as part of the normal defence of a litigation case”.

It says that, while the department sought occasional updates from the HSE, it did not seek clinical reports directly from doctors.

“In circumstances where the litigation taken against the department pertains to an alleged failure in the provision of service, it is appropriate for the department to establish the actual level of service being provided to the particular plaintiff in question,” the report says.

It did, however, identify a single case file where it inadvertently received a clinical report directly from a clinician.

The report says that, should this happen again, the information should be returned and not held on file.

The review also looked at a claim that the department was holding video recordings of children with disabilities. It said it had identified one video recording.

"The examination of the file has confirmed that the video file was provided by the plaintiff as an exhibit in a supplemental affidavit," it said.

Sensitive information

The department has also published a report on its data-collection practices carried out by an independent legal expert.

The department had said previously that the review, conducted by Conleth Bradley SC, had not identified any breach of the legislation on data protection.

The review was carried out between July and November last year under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. It looked at a number of allegations originally received through a protected disclosure in February 2020.

The department said Mr Bradley met the discloser and considered issues and documents brought to his attention.

In the report, Mr Bradley refers to allegations made about the compilation of spreadsheets dealing with the historic legal cases.

He says that while some of the information is sensitive and, in some case, refers to distressing circumstances, it appears to be “consistent with, and typical of, the sort of information which arises in such litigation”.

One of the discloser’s allegations referred to a request for information on a patient from the HSE, which eventually led to the department seeking legal advice on data-protection legislation.

Mr Bradley says the department should confirm whether this legal advice was received and whether it addressed the relevant issues.

The report comes with some redactions that the department says are necessary to protect personal and commercially sensitive information, legal privilege, and other relevant matters.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland