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Sunday 17 December 2017

HSE chief hits back at watchdog over criticism

Eilish O'Regan and Aine Kerr

HSE chief executive Brendan Drumm yesterday admitted the quality of information the executive supplies to TDs could be improved, but he rejected claims it was riddled with "excessive secrecy".

Reacting to trenchant criticism from Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly he insisted her accusation that the Health Service Executive was "rotten to the core" amounted to an "unfortunate use of language".

Ms O'Reilly had launched a broadside against the HSE at the launch of her annual report when she said her office had encountered considerable difficulties getting records when investigating complaints.

Professor Drumm said the Ombudsman was entitled to her view but his staff were hampered in releasing certain information which was bound to confidentiality due to in-camera rules. Previously staff had handed over information to the Ombudsman and had ended up in court when severely reprimanded for doing so.

"The HSE was clearly warned not to do so again", he added. Referring to the obstacles faced by the HSE in handing over files to the team reviewing the deaths of children in care, he said the Attorney General had agreed with the HSE's advice that it could not do so without a change in legislation.

He had recognised the "legal constraints placed on the HSE" and was "moving to change the legislation", Prof Drumm told RTE's 'News at One'.

Questioned on criticism levelled at the HSE by TDs who said they found it difficult to obtain information from it, he said the difficulty was not in getting answers but the quality. He conceded this could be improved. Prof Drumm said, however, that it was unfair to say the HSE, with very committed staff who were working within the constraints of the law, was rotten to the core.

The HSE was subject to Freedom of Information legislation and other forms of accountability such as Dail committees, and was striving to improve, he said. It was not operating with a code of secrecy.

Children

The HSE had always said the original internal reports into the deaths of children in care could not be published. These reports were not published "in any country in the world" but in the future they would be constructed in a way to allow them be made public.

Ms O'Reilly yesterday declined to react to Prof Drumm's statements.

Fine Gael's health spokesman James Reilly said a dedicated advocate for patients was needed to deal with the type of hospital complaints outlined by the Ombudsman. Patients who had had adverse experiences of the health services now faced years of unsatisfactory interaction with the HSE before having to resort to the Ombudsman, he said.

Irish Independent

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