Up to 35 families are affected by claims that the Department of Health secretly collected information on children with autism for litigation purposes, the Department has confirmed.
An RTÉ Investigates programme last week claimed the Department used information from private doctor consultations to create dossiers on children with autism who were involved in legal actions against the State without their parents’ knowledge.
In an open letter to stakeholders on Thursday, the secretary general of the Department, Robert Watt, said the families involved would be contacted “shortly” through their solicitor.
“The Department of Health has appointed Mr Donie O’Shea as an independent support liaison officer to engage directly with the families involved,” he wrote.
“The Department can confirm that no more than 35 families are involved in open litigation related to these allegations.
“Each of these families will be contacted shortly through their solicitor offering the opportunity to engage directly with the independent support liaison officer.”
Mr Watt added that the Department “regrets the distress recent media reports may have had on the families involved and is taking steps to ensure that they, and others associated with autism services, are listened to and supported.”
The Department aims to publish an independent review into the claims, commissioned after allegations were brought to the attention of the Department last year, next week.
“I can confirm that the review found that there was no basis to suggest wrongdoing arising from the allegations made by the discloser,” Mr Watt wrote.
“Again, I would like to reiterate that the Department of Health has never gathered sensitive medical and educational information on children involved in court cases in the manner portrayed in recent media reports.”
The letter also stated that the Department welcomes an inquiry by the Data Protection Commission (DPC), which has launched a statutory inquiry into the Department’s data collection practices regarding these cases.