Department of Health statement regarding records and the Symphysiotomy Payment Scheme
It is important to reiterate that these documents are all copies that were submitted by women and their solicitors in applying to the Scheme. No original documents are being dispensed with. It is also very important to emphasise that it is up to each woman to decide as an individual whether she wants the documents returned to her or confidentially disposed of. This is being done in line with data protection laws and the right to privacy. Many women may not want others looking at their personal papers under any circumstances, now or ever. It’s their choice.
The Department of Health is satisfied that Judge Clark, Assessor to the Symphysiotomy Payment Scheme, is in full compliance with her Terms of Reference under the Scheme.
The Surgical Symphysiotomy Payment Scheme was established to provide a simple, non-adversarial option in which payments are made to women who have had a surgical symphysiotomy whether or not it was warranted. The Scheme publishes relevant information on a regular basis on their website (www.payment-scheme.gov.ie), which shows that 576 applications were made to the Scheme (not 700). To date, more than 350 awards totalling over €26m have been made. Approximately 160 cases were found ineligible. No woman was obliged to apply to the Scheme for payment, or must accept any offer made to them. Every woman is completely free to pursue her case in court if she prefers.
Women who applied to the Scheme have supplied copies of their medical records for the purpose of assessment of their application. The Assessor is required by Data Protection legislation to confine her use of the copy documents submitted for the purposes of determining whether an applicant underwent a symphysiotomy and, if so, whether she suffered a significant disability as a result of the procedure. After that the Assessor cannot retain the information any longer than is necessary for the conclusion of the Scheme.
The confidentiality and protection of Applicants has always been a top priority of the Scheme. Any disposal of documents would be to that end only, in accordance with paragraph 46 of the Terms of the Scheme. The Data Protection Commissioner has confirmed that there is no issue with the Scheme’s approach.
In recent weeks the Scheme has written to all applicants personally and a notice has been published on the Scheme’s website, asking if they would like their application form and supporting copy documents to be returned at no cost to them or confidentially disposed of. The Scheme intends to act strictly in accordance with the wishes of the applicants. To date, 222 applicants have indicated that they would like such copy records returned, with 103 opting for confidential destruction. Final figures will be available when the process of engaging with applicants in relation to their wishes is complete.
It is important to note that the Assessor of the Scheme received these copy records for the purpose of determining awards to women who met the criteria of the Symphysiotomy Payment Scheme only. She is not at liberty to hold the records, or to request that they be archived, for any other purpose. The Data Protection Commissioner has confirmed that data may only be used for the purpose for which it was supplied and for no other purpose. In addition, the records are confidential and privileged. Each Applicant expressly acknowledged this as part of their application to the Scheme.
The Scheme’s website made clear earlier this month that it does not hold and never did hold original medical records. There has not ever been any intention for the Scheme to destroy original records. Original medical records belong to the individual concerned and are, generally, held by hospitals or, perhaps in some cases, by their solicitors. Women who have applied to the Scheme can be confidently assured that their copy records are safe and confidential there. No action on the part of the Assessor of the Scheme will result in the loss of medical records. Any woman who wishes to discuss her records with the Scheme may do so in confidence by calling their offices at 01 6778554, as many have done to date.
No documentation will be confidentially disposed of until the work of the Scheme has been completed – a small number of applications still remain to be assessed. The Scheme will continue to run until all applications are assessed and awards made to women and their legal advisers. Every effort will be made to contact women who have not yet replied to the Assessor to ensure that their wishes regarding their personal records are respected.