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Brain-damaged boy left in hospital limbo while HSE and Tusla rowed over his care


Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon. Photo: Maxwells/Julien Behal

Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon. Photo: Maxwells/Julien Behal

Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon. Photo: Maxwells/Julien Behal

A four-year-old boy with serious physical and intellectual disabilities was left living in hospitals for two-and-a-half years due to failures by both the HSE and Tusla.

A major investigation by the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman (OCO) found “systemic failings” by the HSE means there are another 356 children with disabilities left waiting for appropriate living arrangements

The OCO’s investigation into “Jack’s case” also found Tusla had improperly discriminated against the boy on grounds of disability, after it failed to help Jack’s family to care for him.

In 2016 when Jack was three, he was involved in a serious car accident in another country. He suffered life-changing injuries including brain damage and diagnosed with serious intellectual and physical disabilities which would require full-time care. In 2017, his mother brought him back to Ireland and he was immediately admitted to hospital.

In 2018, staff at the hospital who were caring for Jack complained to the OCO that the HSE was taking too long to put supports in place to let the boy go home. The OCO found he had been ready to be discharged in 2017, but spent another two-and-a half-years living between two hospitals and a specialist community respite setting because of a “failure” of the HSE and Tusla to work together.

While living in hospitals, Jack was “essentially isolated” from other children and rarely saw his sister. At times, he was “distressed” and “crying constantly”. By 2019, his mother and his consultant had both reported a deterioration in Jack’s health and well-being. The OCO said it believed if Tusla and the HSE had worked together Jack could have grown up with his family or even gone to school.

In February 2020, the HSE placed Jack with a host family but the OCO found this was done “without any legal or formal regulatory framework or proper authority”. Tusla refused to help Jack, claiming he was the responsibility of HSE Disability Services. The OCO found this was “improperly discriminatory on the grounds of disability”.

Niall Muldoon, the Ombudsman for Children, said there was no doubt Jack’s case “makes for grim reading”. “”The tragedy of Jack’s accident and subsequent life-changing injuries, for both the little boy and his family, was compounded by unacceptable delays and mismanagement of his care by the State, which was supposed to have his best interests at heart,” he said.

The OCO has called on the HSE to “immediately and systemically review” all cases where children are left in hospitals without needing to be.

Its investigation found there are another 356 children with disabilities who need residential care placements. Mr Muldoon said the OCO was aware of “profoundly wrong” cases where “who have left their children in a variety of settings such as Emergency Departments, disability respite centres and schools in a desperate attempt to force the State to provide much needed services.”

Both the HSE and Tusla agreed with the Ombudsman’s recommendations and have committed to carrying out a national review of the current need for alternative care for children with disabilities.

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