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Harney accused over 'new culture of secrecy' in Health

Senan Molony Political correspondent TANAISTE Mary Harney has been accused of presiding over "a developing culture of covert communications" in the Department of Health after her secretary general discouraged the head of the HSE from putting sensitive matters in writing.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has sent a blistering letter to Ms Harney following disclosure of a memo from the new secretary general at the Department, Michael Scanlan, which contradicts a key recommendation of the Travers Report.

This had called for proper record-keeping by the Department of Health after the nursing homes debacle. But the internal note reveals that Mr Scanlan discouraged HSE chief executive Professor Brendan Drumm from engaging in written communication.

Mr Scanlan received a copy of a draft letter that Professor Drumm was "proposing to send to me officially" outlining health issues that would need to be addressed. In his memo, dated January 23 last, Mr Scanlan says he received the letter "on a personal basis". He subsequently "discussed this draft letter with Professor Drumm at a meeting in his office on 23 September, 2005.

"We agreed that it would be better to progress the issues involved by way of further discussions . . . rather than by way of formal written correspondence," the memo said.

It has emerged that the draft letter was never sent, while the "personal" copy is no longer in the Secretary General's possession.

Now Mr Kenny claims Mr Scanlan's note is just part of a wider pattern of the Department of Health actively trying to avoid "falling victim" to the Freedom of Information Act whereby official records can be made public. Mr Kenny's fury stems from inadequate FOI searches by the Department that resulted in records being withheld from his party because they were allegedly overlooked.

The FG leader has repeatedly tabled Dail questions and sought records on contact between the Tanaiste's office and the HSE over Government plans to build new private hospitals on the campuses of public hospitals.

Last December, he submitted an FOI request on the issue, receiving a "release of documents" a month later with the claim that they were "all records relevant to your request held in the Department".

But the material did not include any reference to a meeting known to have taken place between the Tanaiste and the chairman and the chief executive of the HSE.

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When Mr Kenny complained, he was informed that "additional searches" had identified a report of the meeting of the 27 October. But access to the record was refused.

Meanwhile, Prof Drumm has said the HSE cannot allow a situation where consultants working for public hospitals take up work in private hospitals.

He was speaking as the HSE is considering plans for private hospitals to be developed.

Mr Kenny said he was writing Ms Harney as she was responsible.

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