I propose to take Questions Nos. 549 to 561, inclusive, and 674 to 677, inclusive, together.
These questions appear to relate to details of, and the handling of, a protected disclosure submitted to my Department in September 2014.
A protected disclosure, raising matters of concern within the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI), was received by my Department in September 2014. The matters complained of included the impact of certain conduct on the health and well-being of personnel and procurement irregularities in the NMBI. I am advised that the initial complaint did not characterise the matters as falling within the provisions of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005. The matter was referred to the Board of the NMBI to investigate in September 2014. In late September 2014 senior officials of my Department met with the President, Vice-President and another Board member and stated that it was important that a prompt, impartial and proportionate investigation must take place.
In November 2014 my officials received a response from the Board of the NMBI in which the Board reported that it had formed the view that there appeared to be no foundation to the matters raised in the protected disclosure. In order to be satisfied that the matter had been appropriately reviewed and an evidence based conclusion reached, officials from my Department requested the NMBI to set out the basis upon which it had arrived at this conclusion together with all evidence and documentation that had been relied upon. The NMBI responded to say it was of the view that it was not appropriate to forward the material associated with the investigation. My officials wrote again on this matter in December and, in the absence of receiving such assurances, the Secretary General of my Department wrote to the NMBI in January 2015. The Secretary General conveyed the Department's continuing concerns that the NMBI had not provided evidence to satisfy the Department that the allegations had been investigated in an objective and transparent manner and set out the Department's strong view that the NMBI should appoint a third party with appropriate expertise and experience to carry out a review of the complaint.
In February 2015 the Board of the NMBI informed my Department that a third party had been appointed to carry out a preliminary external review of the complaint. My Department acknowledged this correspondence and stated that it looked forward to the outcome of the review. The review was completed in May 2015 and the Board of the NMBI informed my Department of the recommendations contained in the review in May 2015. In transmitting the recommendations to my Department by letter, the President of the NMBI copied a Board member and the CEO of the NMBI. My Department was not furnished with a copy of the review itself and is not familiar with the methodology adopted in the completion of the review or, for example, the manner in which interviews were conducted or the specific individuals who participated in the exercise. Subsequently, in submitting a report to my officials in May 2016, the NMBI advised that the nature of some of the disclosures focused on what would generally be termed Human Resources related issues and the investigation of these was compounded by the departure of a former staff member. I understand that the review conducted by the third party was shared with the person that was the subject of the complaint prior to the recommendations of the report being shared with my Department.
On foot of that review, two reports were commissioned. Crowe Horwath was engaged to carry out an Organisational Review and BDO was engaged to carry out a review of Remuneration and Contract Management of Non-Permanent Employees. BDO submitted two reports, the first in September and the second in November 2015. Crowe Horwath submitted a report in November 2015. The reports were accepted in full by the Board of the NMBI and they began to implement the recommendations. This has resulted in a comprehensive change to the governance arrangements in the NMBI. I can inform the Deputy that my Department was advised by the NMBI on 25 August 2015 that it did not intend to pursue the recommendation relating to an electronic record. However, I can advise the Deputy that my Department was subsequently (May 2016) advised of the steps that the NMBI took in respect of this specific recommendation. The NMBI purchased specific software to enable electronic searching by key words and identified a number of documents for review. This review took place and the complainant was advised of its outcome. The NMBI further advised my Department that it was reviewing and updating its policies and practices in relation to NMBI provided technology and resources.
The Board of the NMBI submitted a final report to my Department in May 2016 advising that the complaints raised in the Protected Disclosure had been upheld by the Board. The Board thanked the complainant for bringing these matters to its attention and stated that it had learned lessons. The Board set out a number of actions it had commenced to address the matters raised to ensure that similar situations will not arise again.
I am advised that the complainant wrote to officials in my Department in February 2016 to outline their dissatisfaction with a number of matters in relation to the handling of their complaint. Included in this letter was a statement alleging that a person had sought to encourage the complainant to withdraw an element of their complaint. I can further advise the Deputy that officials in my Department are aware that the complainant made a complaint to the Ombudsman regarding the conduct of the investigation.
I can advise the Deputy that my Department commissioned an independent review to examine the Department’s handling of the protected disclosure. This review found that the Department had acted appropriately at all times, albeit I am aware based upon subsequent engagement between my officials and the complainant that the complainant does not accept the findings of this review.
In view of the reports commissioned, the findings of same, and the steps taken by the NMBI to implement the recommendations of the reports, I am satisfied that significant action has been taken on foot of the complaints made. These complaints were an important input to the enhancement of governance in the NMBI.
The Deputy is aware of and has raised the obligations set out in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 which provide that a person who receives a protected disclosure in the course of their duties shall not disclose information that might identify the person making the disclosure. Given that the matters referred to by the Deputy relate to a relatively small organisation, I am conscious that to discuss them in great detail may run a risk of inadvertently revealing information that could identify the discloser.
In relation to the payment of legal fees, reference to such payment is included in correspondence from the complainant to my Department. My Department has requested that the NMBI provide the Deputy with information as to whether such payment was made and, if so, the reasons.
Finally, the Deputy has asked what responsibility I have for matters in the NMBI as Minister in the context of the Nurses and Midwives Act, 2011. I can advise the Deputy that the Act conveys certain powers on me as Minister. For example, section 9 provides that I may require the NMBI to provide me with information in relation to the performance of its functions and section 11 provides that I may give general policy directions to the Board. The NMBI is an independent statutory body. Its Board is made up of 23 people, some of whom are elected by registered members of the nursing and midwifery profession, some nominated by prescribed bodies and some appointed by the Minister for Health.