Published on 12 June 2024

Ombudsman Annual Report 2023

Nearly 4,500 complaints about public services were made to the Office of the Ombudsman in 2023. Ombudsman, Ger Deering, has seen a 30% rise in the number of complaints to his Office in recent years, from 3,418 in 2020 to 4,465 last year.  

In his annual report for 2023 the Ombudsman highlights the issues involved in some of the complaints he received, including: 

  • An outdated appointments system in St Vincent’s University hospital, Dublin, which resulted in an appointment for a transplant patient not being made and their diagnosis of cancer delayed.   
  • The Rotunda hospital refusing to deal with a complaint from a couple whose new-born baby had died because the complaint was not made within a 12-month time limit. 
  • A man who was not fully informed of his pension entitlements by the Department of Social Protection and missed out on pension payments of €46,000 over four years as a result.  
  • A third-level student who was refused access to the Higher Education Access Route scheme (HEAR) due to the occupation of her ‘absent’ father.  

40 years of the Ombudsman  

This year, 2024, marks 40 years of the Office of the Ombudsman which deals with complaints about most public bodies including local authorities, government departments, the HSE and voluntary hospitals. Speaking on the publication of his 2023 annual report, Ombudsman Ger Deering highlighted the importance of the Office: 

“The establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman in 1984 was an important step in strengthening democracy in Ireland.  Now, as human rights and democracy are under attack globally, the role of the Ombudsman is more necessary and relevant than ever.  We remain determined to continue to improve the quality of public services and ensure everyone’s right to be treated with respect and dignity.” 

Complaints to the Ombudsman in 2023: By Sector 

The Ombudsman received 4,465 complaints about public services in 2023 - up 30% since 2020.  The highest number of complaints (1,430) was about city and county councils, with 189 complaints about Dublin City Council and 152 about Cork City Council. 

1,175 complaints were made about Government Departments, with the Department of Social Protection being the subject of 636 complaints.    

There were 839 complaints to the Ombudsman about public bodies in the Health and Social Care sector, including 674 about HSE services and 134 about Tusla. 

The remaining complaints were about publicly-funded bodies in other sectors, including regulators, third-level education bodies and private nursing homes.  

The Ombudsman’s annual report for 2023 is available here https://www.ombudsman.ie/publications/annual-reports/ombudsman-annual-report-2/index.xml.

Case Studies 

Chapter 4 of the Ombudsman’s annual report also summarises some of the complaints he upheld in 2023 including: 

Outdated referral process sees hospital appointment and cancer diagnosis delayed (See page 34 of the Ombudsman’s annual report for full case study) 

Marie complained to the Ombudsman when a mix-up in referral letters resulted in an important medical appointment not being made and a diagnosis of cancer being delayed by up to eight months.  During a routine appointment an abnormality was noticed by staff in St Vincent’s University hospital, Dublin, and it was decided to refer Marie to another unit in the hospital.  On two occasions printed referral letters went missing and Marie was not notified of her appointment.  It was only after Marie raised her concerns with the hospital that she received an appointment some eight months later. The abnormality was discovered to be malignant. 

The Ombudsman investigated the incident and found that the hospital’s system for issuing referral letters and ensuring they were followed-up was deficient. The hospital initially proposed the setting up of a ‘print room’ as a solution, but the Ombudsman highlighted the need for a for more efficient ICT-based system to ensure the problem did not reoccur. 

As a result, the hospital implemented a new internal electronic referral system.  The hospital also apologised to Marie for the failures and the difficulties that she encountered. 

 

Hospital refused to deal with bereaved parents’ complaint as it was ‘outside time limit’ (See page 38 of the Ombudsman’s annual report for full case study) 

A couple contacted the Ombudsman after the Rotunda hospital refused to deal with their complaint as it was made outside the 12-month time limit for making complaints. The couple wanted to complain about their poor experience at the hospital during the birth of their baby who died shortly after birth. 

The couple were unaware of the time limit and explained that some of their concerns were about issues that occurred within the 12-month time scale.  They also explained that the period since the loss of their child had been very difficult for them both and that it was difficult to pursue a complaint at the time. 

The Ombudsman noted that there was a 12-month time period for making complaints about hospitals under the Health Act, 2024, but that the time limit may be extended where special circumstances make it appropriate to do so. The Ombudsman believed that the circumstances surrounding this case was a very understandable reason as to why this couple was not in a position to pursue their concerns with the hospital 

In response to the Ombudsman’s concerns the hospital agreed to accept the complaint and to contact the couple to discuss how best they wished to progress their complaint 

 

Man has €46,000 pension payment backdated to date of eligibility  (See page 40 of the Ombudsman’s annual report for full case study) 

Joe complained to the Ombudsman when the Department of Social Protection refused to backdate his Contributory State Pension to the date he would have become eligible - at 66 years of age. While Joe had applied when he was 70, he had visited a local office of the Department shortly before turning 66. He was told he was unlikely to qualify for a pension and was not eligible for a Non-Contributory State pension. As a result, he did not pursue his application. 

The Ombudsman believed that Joe should have been informed of his possible eligibility for a Contributory State Pension at the time he visited the social protection office.  The Department reviewed Joe’s case and awarded him arrears of €46,040 backdated to the date he became eligible. 

 

Student was refused access to education scheme as ‘absent’ father had ineligible occupation (See page 41 of the Ombudsman’s annual report for full case study) 

Sarah complained to the Ombudsman after being deemed ineligible for the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) scheme because of her socio-economic group.  

The HEAR scheme is a higher education admissions scheme for leaving certificate students whose economic or social background are underrepresented in higher education. One of the criteria for the scheme is that the student’s parent(s) must have an ‘approved occupation’.  Sarah’s mother had an ‘approved’ occupation. Her father was unemployed but his last known occupation was not approved.  Sarah felt this decision was unfair as she had very little contact with her father. She was financially supported solely by her mother. Her parents were divorced for a number of years and separated since Sarah was a baby. 

The Ombudsman considered the decision unfair and upheld Sarah’s complaint. He believed the interpretation of the criterion was too restrictive, did not reflect the reality of many HEAR applicant’s family situations, and could potentially disadvantage students from certain backgrounds. 

The ‘socio-economic group’ indicator is in the process of being phased-out as one of the eligibility criteria for the HEAR Scheme. For new applicants entering higher education in 2026, the ‘socio-economic group’ indicator will have been completely removed. 

END 

Ombudsman Annual Report 2023