Seanad debates

Monday, 29 March 2021

Reports on Department of Health Policy in RTÉ Investigates Programme: Statements


10:30 am

Erin McGreehan (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State. I was very glad to hear her comments. It was only human for all of us, including me as a mother and spokesperson on disability, to be absolutely horrified when we watched the report last week indicating that we have a Department that has been holding private medical records for decades for no reason other than that those concerned are involved in litigation, and that we did not act.I read he letter from the Department's Secretary General. It reads:

[We] regret the distress that headlines from this programme has [sic] generated. I would like to reassure [people that we have] never unlawfully held sensitive medical and educational information of children ...

If it is not unlawful, it should be. I am delighted the Minister of State has asked clear questions and I welcome the review of the policy, but each of us can express our horror and mistrust at the breach of privacy and the overreach of the hand of the State, which we have seen repeatedly. From my involvement with the mother and baby homes issue, I have seen how the State just takes control, thinks it knows best and overreaches its authority. We are seeing that in this instance. There was litigation because the State was failing these children. We failed them every day of the week. That situation is beginning to change and I am glad that, under the Minister of State's leadership, there have been many positive changes. This will be another positive change, but the reassurances from the Department and its Secretary General are not great. It is a shame Deputy Rabbitte, as a new Minister of State, has to clean up a mess that happened decades before she even dreamt of being in her role.

This situation is abhorrent. We need to reassure parents whose situations are so bad they have to sue the State. They are exhausted. They did not just decide to sue the State. They sued because they were at the end of their tethers and suing was the last resort. Then this breach of trust happened.

I will not delay the House for too long. I hope urgent action is taken. The Secretary General wrote that what happened was not unlawful, but it damn well should be. People's privacy and the trust they have with their doctors were breached. My records should not be disclosed if I am suing the State. I have had a few mishaps with the HSE in my time. Were I suing the State over those, the Department of Health should not have access to all of my medical files.

The whistleblower who appeared on "RTÉ Investigates" was phenomenal and brave. I could see the upset on his face over the files and videos he had seen. Speaking as a parent, it was incredibly upsetting.

I am glad there will be a review. Let there be less haste, but get it done so that we can restore parents' trust.


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