Coronavirus: Data protection inquiry over employers getting test results before workers

The HSE has suspended the practice of giving Covid-19 test results to employers ahead of workers, after concerns about “breaches of confidentiality”.
Coronavirus: Data protection inquiry over employers getting test results before workers

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health
Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health

By Juno McEnroe, Aoife Moore, and Paul Hosford

The HSE has suspended the practice of giving Covid-19 test results to employers ahead of workers, after concerns about “breaches of confidentiality”.

The emergence of results going to bosses ahead of workers triggered criticism and has sparked a data protection inquiry.

After health authorities also had mixed views of the practice, the HSE decided last night to cease the practice.

In a statement, it said: “In view of the concerns raised by some employees in relation to this issue, the HSE will reconsider the use of exceptions and has suspended the practice while we seek guidance from the Data Protection Commissioner.”

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan last night said the issue of employers getting test results first was “an important principle” and anything else was a “breach of confidentiality”.

The controversy saw TDs at a special Covid-19 committee quiz health authorities over bosses getting results first in meat factories and nursing homes.

Dr Holohan and the chief executive of the HSE, Paul Reid, contradicted each other over employers receiving workers’ virus results.

It was revealed that the commissioner had received complaints in some cases of mass testing employees, management had received the employees results first.

Dr Holohan said the practice would be a “breach of confidentiality, full stop. Employers should not be receiving results for employees.”

In the afternoon committee session, Mr Reid said public health officials can make a “judgement call” on the issue, saying: “There are exceptional cases where there is discretion and judgement call available for public health officials.”

It also emerged the cost of the National Children’s Hospital could rise by 40% due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Speaking at the committee, head of the Construction Industry Federation Tom Parlon told Labour TD Duncan Smith he had “been told by industry figures” that the cost of the €1.7bn project could rise by 40%. That would add €680m to the already over-budget project.

The warning came as health authorities said there is “a consistent suppression of Covid-19 in the community” after an extra 51 cases of the virus were announced.

There were another 16 deaths bringing the number of fatalities to 1,561. Virus cases number are now 24,251.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has admitted it

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The admission to a Fine Gael party meeting on Monday night comes as the Government scrambles to secure the reopening of childcare facilities, after a deal collapsed last week on the care of health workers’ children.

Mr Varadkar raised concerns that other European countries were opening schools and creches earlier.

According to party sources, he said the new target here to reopen creches by the end of June would “take a lot of work” and could be “difficult” with social distancing and fewer providers.

Members said Mr Varadkar said he does not want Ireland to be “the last country” in Europe reopening creches and schools, as it would “reflect badly on us”.

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