35 families affected by autism data collection claims as Department of Health denies wrongdoing
"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."
35 families are involved in open litigation relating to allegations that the Department of Health has been using information from private doctor consultations to build dossiers on children with autism involved in legal actions against the State.
The Department of Health confirmed the figure in an open letter to its stakeholders in which it denied any wrongdoing.
Prime Time claimed last week that detailed information was gathered on at least four dozen cases taken by parents of children with autism seeking appropriate education.
The programme alleged the information was gathered without the knowledge or consent of parents.
In the letter, the Secretary General of the Department Robert Watt said: "I am writing to notify you that the Department of Health has appointed Mr Donie O’Shea as an Independent Support Liaison Officer to engage directly with the families involved in recent allegations on the RTÉ Prime Time programme regarding the collection of data for litigation purposes.
"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."
The letter states 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.
Watt said the department is "committed to publishing" an independent review into the claims, which could be released next week.
The report was commissioned after allegations were brought to the attention of the department last year.
Watt added: "I can confirm that the review found that there was no basis to suggest wrongdoing arising from the allegations made by the discloser.
"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."
A team within the Department of Health has been established to assess the allegations made on Prime Time, while the Data Protection Commission is currently investigating the department's data collection practices with regard to the cases.
Read the Department of Health's open letter here.