From top: Independent TD Denis Naughten; Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan; HSE CEO Paul Reid; Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy
Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health Dr Tony Holohan told the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response:
“We have had reports of employers receiving results in respect of individual patients, that’s a breach of confidentiality. Full stop.”
It followed claims about the practice made in the Dáil last week by Independent TD Denis Naughten while he was asking the Minister for Health Simon Harris about Covid-19 infection rates at meat plants.
During his contribution, Mr Naughten said:
“It has happened in a number of instances across the country.”
At the time, Mr Harris told the Dáil that he couldn’t speak to the claims because he didn’t know any details about Mr Naughten’s claims.
Yesterday morning, RTÉ’s Fran McNulty reported that Mr Naughten’s claims had since been confirmed in a letter the TD received from the minister. He also reported that the Data Protection Commissioner said such a practice was not legitimate.
Later in the afternoon, CEO of the HSE Paul Reid addressed the committee and he was also asked about the practice. Mr Reid said “there is one case that we know of”.
He had this exchange with Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy:
Paul Reid: “There is one case that we know of where the employer was notified of a significant number of positive cases and that is at the discretion of the public health official and the judgment he or she makes…”
Matt Carthy: “Does Mr Reid agree with what Dr Holohan said earlier on? I think his words were that this practice would clearly breach patient confidentiality. Does Mr Reid not agree with that?”
Reid: “The way we want to do this is directly through the GP and the individual. That is the route we have taken throughout this process.”
“There are exceptional cases where public health officials have a responsibility and have a derogation in terms of managing a major outbreak. That would be a responsibility that they take in extremely exceptional cases such as in a pandemic or a major outbreak.”
Carthy: “We are in a pandemic. Does that mean that the derogation, as defined, applies to anybody?”
Reid: “No, it would not because throughout the vast ultimate majority of all of the cases we have tested the result is communicated back through the GP to the individual. That is our process. That is the way it works.
Carthy: “Does Mr Reid stand over the position whereby, in some instances, employers are informed about their workers’ health before the workers themselves?”
Reid: “No. Ultimately, that is not the way we want to see this done. We want to see it done directly through the individuals in the first instance. That is exactly the way we want to see it done. That is the way we have done it throughout this process.”
Carthy: “Are you going to work to stop it then?”
Reid: “The deputy specifically asked me about a case, the details of which I do not have but have been trying to get since this morning. I will get it. The Deputy specifically asked me about a case of a plant or a particular organisation, which I understand was on public health terms, the way that was managed, in the exceptional pandemic situation.”
Last night the HSE announced that the practice of informing employers about employees’ test results would be suspended.
In addition, Mr Naughten also tweeted about the unfolding story after Mr Reid said he was aware of one case…
HSE to suspend practice of telling employers workers’ test results (RTÉ)
Previously: The Last To Know
Finding Out In The Worst Way