HSE flouted “basic data protection rights” by sharing Covid-19 results with employers

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The HSE has ignored people’s “basic data protection rights” by sharing Covid-19 test results with employers before informing the individuals Galway TD Denis Naughten has said, condemning the practice.

Deputy Naughten raised the issue of employers being given Covid-19 test results for their employees before the individuals in question had been informed themselves in the Dáil last week.

Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed this week that this has happened in some instances where there have been clusters of cases.

The HSE announced yesterday that it is suspending the practice of informing employers about their staff’s test results after coming under heavy criticism from the Data Protection Commissioner and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan.

Dr Holohan spoke on the matter before the special Oireachtas Committee on the response to Covid-19, calling it a “breach of confidentiality”.

The HSE had said that in some exceptional circumstances an employer would be informed of test results before individuals when it was “essential for the public health good”.

But the Data Protection Commissioner, which began looking into this after receiving numerous complaints, disagreed with that assessment.

The Commissioner has said that while it may necessary to inform employers of positive Covid-19 results, this should only be done after they have first been communicated to the relevant individual.

“But the key question here is why did the HSE blatantly disregard very basic data protection laws regarding medical test results,” Denis Naughten said.

“The suggestion has been that these disclosures were made to overcome a language barrier, but all examples I furnished to Minister Harris related to Irish people because most of the foreign employees are afraid to speak up.”

The Independent TD blamed these decisions on the state of the contact tracing system in Ireland, saying that health officials involved in combating Covid-19 are in an difficult position.

They are either forced to wait, sometimes for weeks he claimed, for the contact tracing system to inform people of their test results, or trying to get information out as quickly as possible to limit the spread of the virus.

“This cannot be tolerated, results should be provided directly to those tested as soon as they become available,” stated Denis Naughten.