Test results given to some meat plant and nursing home employers first
The confirmation by the Minister for Health that medical results were shared with employers before employees clearly shows that the most basic data protection rights of individuals are being completely ignored by the HSE, says Denis Naughten.
Denis Naughten disclosed the breach of basic data protection standards in Dáil Éireann last Thursday and immediately furnished examples of staff in meat plants and nursing homes who were informed of their Covid test results by their employer.
The Minister for Health has now confirmed, in writing to Deputy Naughten, that in some instances, the HSE has issued results to managers of meat processing plants directly.
In his letter, Minister Harris said: “The HSE has informed the Department that in order to ensure that control measures for outbreaks are put in place quickly, the Departments of Public Health have issued in some instances results to the managers of meat processing plants to ensure that the Medical Officer of Health is complying with their legislative responsibility. The manager of each plant has a responsibility to manage their service, ensure effective cohorting and ensure that infectious staff are not at work and potentially spreading infection.”
He said in cases of mass screening, it had been necessary in the interests of public health to convey results of cases confirmed COVID-19 to the management of the plant to ensure the workers quickly can be sent home from the factory floor for their own health and that of their fellow employees.
The Minister added that employees with confirmed COVID-19 also receive a phone call from Departments of Public Health or the HSE Contact Management Programme (CMP) detailing what they need to do in response to their diagnosis including self-isolation and self-care.
The Minister added that in the majority of testing of nursing home workers, healthcare workers were contacted directly to inform them of a positive test result.
“However, they also advise that in some cases due to missing contact information and the volume of results, some results were communicated directly to management to enable the facility to take prompt action.”
Responding to the letter, Naughten said: “The key question here is why did the HSE blatantly disregard very basic data protection laws regarding medical test results? I believe it is because those with responsibility for the management of Covid-19 are left in the invidious position of either waiting weeks for the contact tracing system to inform staff of their results or trying to get the information out quickly in order to reduce the spread of the infection. This cannot be tolerated, results should be provided directly to those tested as soon as they become available.
Speaking about the delays in informing people of their results, he added: “I personally know of one family who waited seven weeks to get results and ultimately only received them after I brought the delay to the direct attention of HSE national management.
“These delays in contacting those tested and following up on their close contacts is dictating how clusters of infection are being managed. For example, I could not understand that if there was such a swift turnaround in testing, as outlined to TDs by the HSE, why meat plants were not closed by public health officials until the Covid screening results came back.
“But clearly the reason for the current management of clusters is because of the inordinate delays in providing results through the contact tracing system.
“What seems to be happening is that positive results are prioritised for disclosure and negative results are long-fingered because all results would have been issued to the contact tracing system by the laboratory at the one time. There is no other reason why there would be weeks of a differential between staff in a single facility being informed if they are positive or negative.
“This failure to get the system right is undermining the heroic efforts by every citizen in the State to stop the spread of this virus and we cannot allow a second wave of infection under any circumstances,” concluded Denis Naughten.