The health watchdog HIQA has promised to begin referring complaints about the mistreatment of elderly nursing homes residents to the Office of the Ombudsman which has the power to investigate them.

The Ombudsman Peter Tyndall raised concerns with HIQA after it emerged that none of the 680 complaints it received last year, relating to the treatment of nursing home residents, were passed on to his office.

This is despite the existence of a Memorandum Of Understanding between the two organisations which allows for the transfer of such complaints.

It is understood HIQA formed the view that data protection requirements prevented it from sharing personally identifiable information without the express consent of the individual involved.

Details of the nursing home complaints were released to Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd who raised concerns that HIQA, which does not have the power to investigate individual complaints, had not referred any of them to the Ombudsman which can carry out investigations.

After coverage of the issue on RTÉ’s This Week programme last week, Mr Tyndall requested an urgent meeting with HIQA seeking improved communication and the transfer of complaints to his office.

Mr Tyndall said he "could not believe" that none of the 680 complaints about nursing homes, made to HIQA last year, were referred to the Office of the Ombudsman.

A meeting took place on Thursday after which the Ombudsman’s office said it had been given "credible assurances" that the issues of concern would be addressed.

It said HIQA "assured the Ombudsman that further steps will be taken to ensure that complaints that it receives, and that are appropriate to the Ombudsman, will be forwarded to the Ombudsman with the consent of the complainant.

"This is in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding between both Offices.

"The Ombudsman also was given a detailed explanation of the steps which HIQA take to address complaints from whistleblowers. New arrangements for improved communication and review of the Memorandum of Understanding were also agreed" it said.

The Office of the Ombudsman received 63 complaints last year, compared with 680 complaints which were received by HIQA.

A complaint can be made to the Ombudsman where efforts to resolve difficulties with the individual nursing home have failed.

Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd has said there is more certainty now that complaints made to HIQA regarding the treatment of nursing home residents will be dealt with.

It follows a meeting between HIQA and the Office of the Ombudsman earlier this week, where an agreement was reached so that complaints that HIQA receives can be passed on to the Ombudsman.

Speaking on This Week, Mr O' Dowd said it means for the first time in three years the complaints which HIQA receives about abuse or concerns about nursing homes will end up on the desk of the Ombudsman.

"The way forward is that all complaints will be dealt with by the person who has the power to deal with that complaint and that is hugely reassuring to everybody out there."

He said the key thing is now to bring about real change in nursing home care and to bring more transparency.