THE Health Service Executive is to stop providing journalists with information on the condition of patients.
It says that to tell the media the condition of a patient is “incompatible,” with its obligations to the privacy rights patients have “through the Constitution and indeed our obligations to article 8 of the European Charter for Human Rights”.
The media generally enquire about the condition of people following major accidents or violent incidents or if the person is a public personality.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) wants to meet the HSE about the move, which was done without any consultation with the union and it has asked the executive to postpone its implementation.
NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley said: “I am concerned about the lack of prior consultation with the union. We think a protocol governing the release of names is preferable and while there is an issue in relation to the right to privacy there are also cases where the release of information is in the public interest.”
In a letter this week to all national and local print and broadcasting outlets, the HSE says that “clinicians” are concerned that information relating to patients “who can be identified,” is being given to the media “as a matter of course”.
The HSE also says that it has the support of the Data Protection Commissioner and has taken into account “the requirements of the Data Protection Commissioner and the ethical duty to our patients and clients”.
Patients are entitled to expect information on their “medical status or treatment remains private and not divulged to external organisations or individuals”.
A spokesperson for the Date Protection Commissioner said, “the health status of a patient is personal data within the terms of the Data Protection Acts”.
“Where an organisation such as the HSE collects personal health information, they have an obligation to respect the data protection rights of patients, including by keeping that information secure. Information in regard to a person’s health status should only be released to third parties with the clear consent of the patient concerned.”
The HSE says information relating to fatalities will continue to be announced by the gardaí.
Mr Dooley said what the HSE is doing amounts to a blanket provision and there should instead be a protocol that includes reference to family consent. The union has written to the HSE seeking a meeting and also asking them to postpone it.
The change comes into effect from next Monday.
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