Denying clergy access to patient records ‘a step towards paganism’

Our Lady's Hospital Navan. Picture: Arthur Carron/Collins

A priest has described as “outrageous” data protection measures which prevent him knowing if any of his parishioners are in hospital.

Fr Mark Mohan had to leave Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan, Co Meath, last week after being refused access to the so-called ‘religious list’.

Traditionally, when a patient had been admitted to hospital, their name, address, and religion was placed on a list so visiting clergy could discover if anyone from their area was in a ward.

However, over the years, the practice has been discontinued due to data protection controls, said Fr Mohan. Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan was one of the last hospitals to enforce such measures.

Fr Mohan, parish priest of Ballivor-Kildalkey, said: “I used to go up to the hospital every Monday and read the list to see if any of my parishioners had been admitted.

“Very often, my parishioners would live on their own and their families would maybe live away. There might be no one in the parish to let me know they were in hospital.

“I was told last week that I could no longer see this list for data protection reasons.”

Fr Mohan said his visits would bring emotional, as well as spiritual, support to patients.

“Most parishioners love to see their local priest visiting,” he said. “It’s someone to talk about local issues and it often breaks a long and lonely day.

“I know there is a chaplaincy service in the hospital, but parishioners like to see their own local priest.

“Recently, I visited a parishioner in hospital shortly before she died and it was a comfort to the family, who lived away, to know her local priest had visited.”

He said the data protection measure was “anti-Christian”.

“I know this practice is not new and it’s already in hospitals in neighbouring counties but I think it’s outrageous,” he said. “It’s a slap in the face for our religion and our communities. It’s another step towards paganism.

“It’s another anti-Christian mentality at management level, in favour of more red tape. It’s wiping out the cup of tea tradition that has long been a part of our society, where you could visit for a chat. Instead, it may add to isolation, especially for the older generation who are often at their most vulnerable in hospital.”

A HSE spokesperson responded what while patients have the right to spiritual expression and access to care from clergy of their own faith, patients also had the right to have personal information kept out of the public eye.

“Ireland East Hospital Group, which includes Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan respect the spiritual practice of all denominations,” said the spokesperson. “As carers, our staff understand the stress and difficulties experienced by the patient, his/her family and loved ones during a hospital stay.

“However, data protection legislation stipulates that, as a public body, the Ireland East Hospital Group, inclusive of all hospitals within the group, must keep personal information safe and secure.

“This means that no sensitive personal information should be disclosed to third parties without the consent of the individual.

“Permitting a third party to have access to any report which details sensitive personal data constitutes a breach of the Data Protection legislation where a patient is unaware that this may happen and is not requested for their consent.

“Our Lady’s Hospital Navan welcomes and, is willing to work with, any priest or clergyman who wishes to visit a patient. The hospital will do what it can to facilitate meetings between patients and their spiritual advisors.”

Fr Mohan said he will now have to make a weekly appeal in the parish bulletin for family members or neighbours to let him know if someone in the community has been admitted to Navan hospital

“But what if they have no family and few friends. How am I to know then?” he asked.

He said he would now have to go around the wards and ask staff, already under pressure, to check the records to see if any patient was from a Church of Ireland background.


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