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Legal challenge to hospital waiting lists at the centre of dispute over confidentiality


Belfast's Royal Courts of Justice.

Belfast's Royal Courts of Justice.

Belfast's Royal Courts of Justice.

A legal challenge to hospital waiting lists in Northern Ireland is at the centre of a dispute over confidentiality.

Objections were raised after a newspaper quoted from an affidavit lodged by the Department of Health.

But lawyers for a Belfast woman who has been waiting for more than four years to see a consultant about her suspected multiple sclerosis insisted there should be no restrictions on press reporting.

Solicitor Ciaran O'Hare said: "These are important public law proceedings of interest to every citizen in Northern Ireland."

His client, Eileen Wilson, is seeking a judicial review into alleged failures by health authorities to provide medical treatment in a reasonable time.

The 47-year-old single mother of six has been seeking an urgent consultation with a neurologist since June 2017.

She is involved in a High Court challenge against the Department of Health, the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, and the Health and Social Care Board, with a full hearing listed for January.

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Last month an article in the Guardian newspaper claimed affidavits submitted in the case "paint a grim picture".

A senior official in the Department is quoted as saying many believe waiting times are now out of control.

Following publication a Departmental solicitor wrote to Ms Wilson's legal representatives, expressing the view that there is an "implied undertaking of confidentiality" surrounding the documents.

The correspondence states that affidavits are not to be referred to without the court's consent.

At the review hearing today the newspaper article about ongoing litigation was described as being unhelpful.

But counsel for Ms Wilson questioned the basis for any objection in a case of public interest.

Outside court Mr O'Hare, of McIvor Farrell law firm, stressed his client has been a vocal campaigner about Northern Ireland's hospital waiting lists.

"She is of the view that there should be no reporting restrictions placed on the press, save for those ordered by the court in the particular circumstances of some cases," he said.

"She is disappointed with this move by the Department to restrict the press from accessing documents, which have been sworn by senior civil servants, and she poses the question - what is it they do not want the media to see and report on?"

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