The Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired and the Guide Dog School acted contrary to the law when they temporarily took away a guide dog from visually impaired persons without the views of the dogs' users having been heard.
Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen investigated two complaints in which he was asked to examine the actions of the Guide Dog School run by the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired and of the Guide Dog Committee.
Both complainants had had their guide dogs taken away temporarily, because they were suspected of having illtreated the animals. The complainants' views were not heard before their dogs were taken away. Both had to do without a dog for around four months. The suspicions of illtreatment of the animals were subsequently found to be baseless.
The Ombudsman took the view that the Guide Dog School contravened the Administrative Procedure Act when it failed to give the guide dog users an opportunity to present their point of view in the matter.
The action of the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired likewise came in for criticism. The Federation did not inform hospital districts of the changes that had taken place in the use of guide dogs. Thus the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District and the Pirkanmaa Hospital District were not informed that the complainants did not have guide dogs at their disposal, and consequently could not take steps to arrange other aids as a substitute.
In the Ombudsman's view, the principle of protection of trust that is enshrined in the Administrative Procedure Act and the provision requiring authorities to cooperate with each other would have presupposed notification being made.
Shortcomings in agreements
The agreements between the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired and the hospital districts covering purchased services do not mention a guide dog being temporarily taken away or the grounds on which this can be done. There is likewise nothing in the contracts about how guide dog users' right to alternative auxiliary aids can be safeguarded when they do not have a guide dog at their disposal.
The Ombudsman believes that the agreements should be complemented in this respect. That would ensure implementation of guide dog users' constitutional right to adequate health services also when they temporarily do not have a guide dog at their disposal.
The Guide Dog Committee had placed the use of the other complainant?s dog temporarily under special observation. The Ombudsman?s investigation of the matter failed to elicit clarity as to what was meant by this.
The Ombudsman noted on a general level with respect to the matter that under the Constitution everyone's private life is safeguarded. This fundamental right means that individuals are entitled to lead their own lives without authorities or other external instances arbitrarily or groundlessly intervening in it.
The Ombudsman informed the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired of his view. He sent copies of his decision, for information, to the hospital districts in question and to the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, which was requested to inform also the other hospital districts of his stance.
Hospital districts buy guide dog services, which are included in medical rehabilitation auxiliary aids services, from the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired. The Federation produces these services on the basis of an agreement and runs the Guide Dog School, the activities of which are overseen by the Guide Dog Committee. The Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired is performing a public task when it takes care of guide dog services.
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