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Serious privacy breaches uncovered following pregnancy terminations

Some notification forms were not completed in compliance with the legislation, “with missing or incorrect information being supplied, and including serious breaches of patient confidentiality,” the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Tony Holohan informed the HSE Director General Mr Tony O’Brien in September 2014.

Under the legally-required notifications process, only Parts B (Information Relating to the Medical Procedure) and C (Information Relating to the Person Keeping Record) should be sent to the Minister for Health. Part A (Patient Details), which provides for the full name of the patient, their usual place of residence and date of birth, must be retained by the hospital.

MI asked the Department of Health and the HSE in how many instances Part A (Patient Details) was sent to the Minister and how many of these instances involved disclosure of the woman’s name. Neither would comment on these questions.

MI has also seen April 2014 correspondence from HSE Director of Quality and Patient Safety Dr Philip Crowley to HSE senior managers and clinicians “to clarify some issues that have arisen” relating to the notifications process. Dr Crowley referred specifically to Section 20(2) of the Act, which relates to notifications of procedures, where there is risk of loss of life from a physical illness in an emergency, carried out in a location other than the 25 hospitals listed under the legislation.

In this letter, Dr Crowley underlined and emboldened the legal requirement to notify the Minister of each termination “without disclosing the name of the woman”.

In his more recent response to the CMO’s letter of concern, dated 6 October 2014, Dr Crowley advised that “this matter is being treated very seriously by the HSE”.

He stated that he had written again to HSE National Directors, “directing them to ensure that all aspects of the Act are being complied with”.

The Minister is legally obliged to publish a report on the Act’s operation by 30 June, excluding identifying information on patients and doctors.

The legislation commenced on 1 January 2014 and guidance for health professionals was published the following September.

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