Published on 28 May 2019

Complaints from the public to Ombudsman Peter Tyndall rose by 11% in 2018.   

Speaking at the publication of his annual report for 2018 the Ombudsman said that his Office received more than 3,300 complaints about public services last year.  

The largest number of complaints was about services provided by government departments (1,065).  Complaints about local authority services (879), and health and social care services (730) accounted for most of the remaining complaints. 

The health and social care sector saw the largest increase with 122 more complaints received in 2018 than in 2017.   

The Ombudsman investigates complaints from the public about almost all providers of public services as well as third-level education bodies, private nursing homes and ‘direct provision’ services. 

Magdalen Laundry Scheme  

The Ombudsman spoke about his 2017 investigation into the cases of women who were wrongly excluded from the Magdalen Laundry Restorative Justice scheme: 

“I am pleased that the Department of Justice and Equality accepted all my recommendations following the investigation and work is well underway to implement them.  However, many of the women have already suffered a long delay in receiving redress.  I want to see the remaining women who are eligible paid as soon as possible and I will continue to monitor progress. 

Direct Provision 

During 2018 staff from the Ombudsman’s Office also continued their ‘Outreach programme to residents in direct provision accommodation centres.  The visits are used to highlight the role of the Ombudsman and resolve complaints.  The Office is carrying out further visits in 2019.  However the Ombudsman has expressed his concern over the length of time asylum seekers must wait in ‘direct provision’ accommodation which is unsuitable for long-term stay.   

The Ombudsman is also concerned about the number of asylum seekers who are being put into emergency accommodation, such as hotels, due to the unavailability of direct provision accommodation.  As a result, many are facing difficulties in accessing services that they are entitled to.  

Social Welfare Overpayments 

During 2018 the Ombudsman also received a number of complaints from people who had been pursued by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection after being overpaid.  The Ombudsman will publish a report on these complaints and how they have been addressed later this year.  In the meantime, and as a result of the Ombudsman’s intervention, the Department has developed comprehensive procedures for its staff to ensure that cases of overpayments are dealt with in a consistent and fair way.  The procedures will be rolled out to all areas in 2019.  

 

Case Studies 

The Ombudsman’s annual report also summarises some of the complaints he upheld in 2018: 

€25,000 funding for youth centre withheld due to error in tendering  (page 27) 

A man complained to the Ombudsman when funding to convert a derelict building to a youth education centre was withheld after the project was completed and despite having being previously approved.   

The man was part of parents’ group which had received approval for the project from the Local Area Group, which is contracted by the Department of Rural and Community Development to administer the EU LEADER grant programme. The man had taken out a personal loan to help complete the much-needed project.  

The Department had withheld the final part of funding as it was unhappy with how the tendering process for the development was carried out.  However the parents’ group had followed the advice that it had received from the Local Area Group in relation to the tendering process.    

The Ombudsman upheld the complaint as the parents’ group had carried out the procurement in line with the advice they had been given.  The Department paid the final payment for the project of €24,745. 

Woman was wrongly refused parking permit (page 30)

A woman complained to the Ombudsman about Cork City Council when it refused her application for a parking permit.  The woman believed she was entitled to a permit and some other residents in the same building had received permits.  

It emerged that in November 2016 the Council had introduced a policy whereby residents of apartment blocks built after March 2004 would not be eligible for parking permit.  However those who applied for, and had been granted, permit before the policy was introduced were allowed to keep their permits. 

Documents on the Council’s files showed that the woman had first applied for a parking permit before the policy was introduced in November 2016.  Therefore, the woman should have been given a permit.  The Ombudsman upheld the complaint.  The woman had since moved apartments but had evidence of parking fees of €802.  The Council agreed to pay the woman’s fees. 

Typing error leads to confusion over whether man suffered a stroke (page 30) 

A single word accidentally left out of a doctor’s letter resulted in a man believing he may have had a stroke when he had not.  

The man initially believed he had suffered from a stroke and so he had a brain scan at Tallaght Hospital.  The hospital said that there was no evidence of a stroke.  The man asked for a second opinion from Beaumont Hospital.  The man complained to Beaumont Hospital when he had difficulties getting doctors there to review the scans from Tallaght.   

Eventually the man was told by Beaumont Hospital that the scans showed some evidence of a stroke but that it could not confirm if he had suffered a stroke.  The man was very distressed with this outcome and complained to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman discovered that there was a typing error in the letter to the man and it should have read that the scans did “not” suggest that there had been a stroke.  The hospital apologised to the man and explained how the mistake occurred.  

Man distressed by the noise of his own surgery (page 31) 

A man who had surgery in Limerick University Hospital said he could hear the noise of loud surgical instruments used on him during the procedure.  

The man had the operation under a local anaesthetic to his spine which meant that he was awake during the operation. The hospital normally offers earphones and music to patients when loud medical instruments are being used during surgery.  However the man said he had not been offered the option, and the hospital had no record of the man being offered the earphones and music 

The hospital apologised and has since introduced procedures to ensure that offers of disposable earphones are made to every patient and that their response is documented. 

Medical staff unable to access patient records over the weekend (page 32)  

When a man was admitted to Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown two days after a hospital procedure, the hospital could not access his medical records to help with his treatment.   

The man had been admitted to the hospital’s emergency department with chest pains.  However records of his medical procedure had been sent to a separate office in the hospital and the office was closed as it was the weekend.  The man was concerned that the hospital did not have access to important information it needed to properly treat him. 

As a result of his complaint to the Ombudsman the hospital introduced protocols to ensure that medical records can be retrieved at all times. The hospital also assured the man that his treatment was not affected despite the fact that staff were unable to see his records.  

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