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“The HSE has been testing an encrypted communications software product, which is available on a general public licence (free licence),” an Executive spokesperson told the Medical Independent (MI).
“The product is similar to WhatsApp; however messages, pictures, etc, are fully encrypted end-to-end and messages are not readable by anyone, including the vendor.”
In April, MI reported on evidence of widespread use of WhatsApp groups by doctors across Ireland.
The OoCIO has “bottomed-out the testing and are not proceeding with the option in question”, according to the HSE.
However, the Executive is now moving forward with a tender to provide a messaging service for staff.
“A sanction request has since been submitted to DPER [Department of Public Expenditure and Reform] to seek approval to proceed with a tender and we are awaiting a response.”
This newspaper reported in April that the HSE was considering developing a tender to introduce its own messaging service.
The Executive said it was working on a tender that would seek a solution that allows healthcare organisations to meet their data protection and confidentiality obligations.
The HSE previously informed MI that it was aware of the widespread use of WhatsApp groups by doctors across the Irish health system. The Executive has data protection and privacy concerns regarding the current use of such software by doctors.
The Executive’s current security policy recommends no transmission of patient data through software like WhatsApp.
Speaking in April, Specialist Registrar in Neurosurgery and former IMO President Dr John Duddy said the use of WhatsApp groups was “ubiquitous among NCHDs”.
“I’d say every team or rota group around the country has one,” said Dr Duddy.
“While WhatsApp is encrypted, it is clear that none of these publicly-available social media platforms are completely secure. Secure healthcare messaging apps are widely used in the US and there’s no reason why the new HSE CIO couldn’t introduce one of these to the Irish health service.”