File photo of a doctor holding medical files Shutterstock/thodonal88

'A punch in the gut': Tusla apologises as adopted people wait up to a year for personal records

One man will be waiting at least 10 months to get his medical files – despite a 90-day deadline.

TUSLA HAS APOLOGISED for the long delays still being experienced by some adopted people seeking to get access to their medical records and other personal files.

A number of people will be waiting for close to a year by the time they get access to their records.

In one case, an adopted man has been told he will not receive his records until February 2024 – 10 months after he first applied.

In correspondence seen by The Journal, Tusla has repeatedly informed this man of further delays with his request.

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David*, who applied to receive his records in April 2023, said the situation is “very frustrating”.

“The main thing I am looking to receive is my medical information. There is potentially something in the family that I don’t know about – that is something I’ve been worried about for years,” David told The Journal.

He said he was “delighted” when the Birth Information and Tracing Act came into effect in October 2022 as it meant he could finally get answers about his medical history.

“I really want my medical information, I want to make sure there is nothing there. I’ve been at the hospital before and the doctor always asks for your family’s medical history and I have to say ‘I don’t know’.”

David gets vertigo and has been in situations where he gets extremely dizzy and loses his balance. He wants to know the underlying cause of these symptoms.

“I’ve been to multiple specialists and they don’t know what’s wrong. Without having access to my family’s medical history, it’s difficult for them to get a real insight.”

Under the legislation, which came into effect on 3 October 2022, adopted people can access their birth certificates, medical records and early life information. In some cases, a person’s next of kin can also apply for access to records.

Due to a large number of applications in the weeks after the legislation was enacted, the waiting time in many cases jumped from 30 days to 90 days to several months.

Last December, The Journal reported that some people were at the time told they would not receive their records until autumn 2023.

‘A kick in the teeth’

David said that receiving news of the latest delay, where he was told he wouldn’t get his records until at least next February, was “a kick in the teeth, to say the least”.

“I had forgotten about it a little bit, obviously I knew I was due to get my records soon, but it wasn’t at the front of my mind. I was going on holiday the next day, I was looking forward to that. Then I saw they had sent me an email. I assumed it would be them telling me that they were giving me my records. 

“Because I was going on holiday, I didn’t want to look, in case there was bad news in my medical files. But curiosity got the better of me and I opened the email.”

David told us he was very disappointed to see that this email did not, in fact, contain the information he needed. Instead, it was confirmation of another delay.

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to services in Ireland not being great – that you shouldn’t expect too much – but when I saw I wouldn’t have my records until February 2024, it was hard to take. It was a punch in the gut.

David said he understands there will be some delays but making people wait for close to a year to get their records is unacceptable. 

“And that’s if I get my records in February. What if there is another delay then? It is causing me quite a lot of anxiety. You have to try to not think about it, but it’s very stressful.”

Sincere apology

As well as the delay in David’s case, another person has been waiting since January 2023 to get their records. A spokesperson said Tusla is “in regular communication with this client”.

When asked about the long delays being experienced by applicants like David, the spokesperson said Tusla is aware of the “disappointment and distress caused to people by the delays in releasing their birth information”.

“We have conveyed our sincere apology to everyone affected in our communications with them,” they added.

We understand their frustration and have assured them that we are working diligently to resolve these delays.

“To this end, Tusla is committed to efficiently releasing information to applicants and has implemented processes to improve this.”

Under the legislation, a person should receive their documents within 30 days or 90 days in “complex” cases.

As of 23 October, Tusla had received a total of 6,681 requests for information since the Act was introduced just over a year ago.

Of these, 4,867 have been processed; this figure includes 471 requests that were duplicates and 19 withdrawn applications. Some 388 requests did not yield any information and 85 requests were deemed ineligible under the Act.

Currently, 1,814 applications remain to be processed and this refers to 1,569 applications received between February and August 2023.

The 245 applications received since 1 September 2023 are being processed within the statutory timelines, the spokesperson said. The backlog of 1,990 applications received before that date “will be responded to by June 2024″, they noted.

Of the applications received to date, the vast majority are from adopted people with a smaller number from people who were boarded out, a precursor to fostering.

In a bid to process applications faster, the spokesperson said Tusla has received additional funding and hired extra staff.

‘An ordeal’

David said he waited until April of this year to apply for his records, seven months after the legislation came into effect, before he knew the process could be “tiring, emotionally and physically”. 

“I waited until I was ready and knew I could process the information,” he said.

“It’s not something you want hanging over you for a year. Even after that, the information can be dropped on you at any time. It might be bad news that has a big impact on people’s lives.

This is something that should be relatively straightforward but it has turned into a bit of an ordeal.

David said he doesn’t blame Tusla’s staff, saying “they are only human”. But he believes management should have been more prepared for the numbers of people who would seek their information once the legislation came into effect.  

“There was a lot of lead-up to this, they should have known the resources they would need. It’s not up to the staff, but management should have been more prepared, they needed to have contingency plans in place.

“This is not like a backlog of audits at the tax office. It’s very personal and people could be waiting for potentially upsetting information, they should not be left hanging. It’s not treated with the priority or importance that it should be, given the emotional toll it takes on people.”

AAI backlog cleared

Under the Birth Information and Tracing Act people can apply for their records from Tusla or the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI), depending on which organisation holds the files in question.

Despite also experiencing initial delays, the AAI has since cleared its backlog.

The AAI has received 3,832 valid applications for birth information to date. Of these, 53 applicants who applied this month are awaiting their records. All other applications have been processed.

Of the 3,779 applications that have been processed by the AAI to date, 3,635 were made by adopted people, 134 were submitted by people classed as ‘qualifying persons’ under the legislation, and 10 were made by ‘qualifying relatives’.

The 3,779 figure includes 273 applications where no records were found, meaning 3,506 applications resulted in information being released.

The 53 applicants still waiting on information comprises 48 adopted people and five relatives. There are no adoptive parents applying on behalf of their adoptive child waiting for the release of records.

A spokesperson for the AAI noted there was an initial backlog of applications following the commencement of the legislation last October with approximately 1,400 applications received in the first week alone.

However, as of September 2023, this backlog has been cleared.

The spokesperson said the wait time “can depend on the nature of the request and the volume of information to be provided to the applicant”.

“There is no applicant at present who is currently waiting longer than the statutory timeframe of 30 or 90 days depending on the nature of their application.”

The spokesperson said, in a small number of cases, some people who applied to the AAI in October 2022 had to wait 10 months to get their records.

“No individual who applied to the authority has had to wait for 12 months or more,” they added.

*Name changed for privacy reasons