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Multiple investigations under way over alleged leak of patient's details after abortion at NMH

Health Minister Simon Harris has said he is very concerned about the alleged case, and has launched an investigation.

Image: Shutterstock/everything possible

A NUMBER of investigations are under way following allegations that a patient’s medical and personal details were leaked after she had a termination at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street (NMH), in Dublin this week. 

The HSE, the Dublin Well Woman Clinic, the NMH, the Data Protection Commissioner and gardaí are making inquiries about the alleged incident. 

As first reported by TheJournal.ie yesterday, the HSE is investigating allegations that emerged on social media this week. A message shared on Twitter alleged that the woman who had a medical abortion was later contacted by someone using a phone number linked to an ‘abortion counselling service’ that the HSE has warned against. 

There are concerns that the patient’s details were shared with the rogue agency. The HSE launched its probe into the incident following a request from the Health Minister Simon Harris. Through a spokesperson, he said he was concerned by the allegations raised on social media. 

Dublin Well Woman Clinic has also confirmed to TheJournal.ie that a full data breach scan of its IT systems was performed this week. The clinic, which the patient had used prior to being referred to the hospital, said it is confident that no data in relation to any patient was leaked from its operation. 

Chief executive, Alison Begas, said the matter now lies “in the hands of the HSE”.

“We very much welcome the investigation,” she added.  

The National Maternity Hospital said last night that it could not comment on individual cases but that it takes alleged data breaches seriously. 

A spokesperson said: “We do not comment on individual cases. Patient confidentiality is of the utmost importance to us, and any suspected breach of confidentiality is always investigated as a matter of urgency in conjunction with other organisations who may have access to patient details.”

The head of communications at the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner also confirmed to TheJournal.ie that it is “currently making inquiries” about the allegations.

“We will be making no further comment at this time,” a spokesperson added.  

It is understood that no referral has been made to gardaí about a data breach from any hospital, but that officers may be treating the incident as a ‘nuisance call’ that could be investigated. 

The alleged incident

The woman at the centre of the case sent a message to a Facebook group to warn other women about what had happened to her. That initial message was screengrabbed and shared extensively on Twitter. It detailed how after her termination, she had an internal scan and was sent home from the hospital. She was told no other scans would be needed. 

According to the message, when she arrived home that day she received a call from a number unknown to her and was told by a man to re-book in for a scan. 

The message says that the man who called her had her personal details such as her name and address. The number he called from is linked to an unofficial website which has a similar name to the official HSE ‘My Options’ site. 

It’s claimed she was told to come in for a scan, and later received a text message telling her to go to a clinic on the northside of the city. 

The woman, according to the message shared on social media, said she felt something was strange, so she called the Well Woman Clinic and the hospital. They did not know anything about the phone call or the scan.

‘Disgusting’ 

The woman called the number back, and asked the man who he was, the message says. He said he was from ‘My Options’ but then allegedly started to shout abuse at the woman, telling her how “disgusting” she was for having a termination and asking if she knew about the risks. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Begas of the Well Woman Clinic said she would not comment on the individual case. 

While she said she has not heard of any similar cases since the roll out of abortion services in January, she said these sorts of cases involving “rogue clinics and their tactics” have been on her radar since 1999. 

Back then, Begas said she raised such cases with the Eastern Health Board at the time and continues to highlight what these rogue unplanned pregnancy agencies are doing and saying to vulnerable women. 

“If anything, this case demonstrates very clearly the need for legislation to outlaw rogue agencies in order to protect women,” she said. 

TheJournal.ie attempted to contact the rogue counselling service connected with the number by phone several times, but there was no response bar a request to send an email with our questions. A reporter also called to a building linked to the number, but the door wasn’t answered.   

Last month, when abortion services came on stream, the HSE said it was aware of a number of websites and advertisements appearing in online search results for unplanned pregnancy support that have a similar name to its official site. 

It recommended that women searching for support for an unplanned pregnancy visit only a recognised or HSE-funded unplanned pregnancy counselling agency.

‘Hidden agenda’

The Health Service Executive also advised people who a number of unplanned pregnancy agencies “may have a hidden agenda”.

“We are aware of a number of websites and ads that are appearing in search results and social media that claim to be providing unplanned pregnancy support services under variations of the myoptions name,” a spokesperson said. 

“Some unreliable agencies may not be upfront about their intentions and may try to influence a person’s decision,” it warned.

Since the case was highlighted yesterday, a number of TDs have voiced concerns. The former chairperson of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, Senator Catherine Noone has said, if the allegations are true, “it is totally and utterly unacceptable”, and called it “very worrying”.

Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly said she has written to the Minister for Health and the Minister for Justice about the matter and is calling on the gardaí to investigate it as a matter of urgency.

The HSE also issued a warning yesterday afternoon, tweeting “For trusted unplanned pregnancy advice and information on abortion services, go to the HSE’s http://MyOptions.ie or call 1800 828 010. All official HSE ads and listings for My Options will mention the HSE, link to our site, or carry the HSE logo.”

With reporting by Daragh Brophy, Michelle Hennessy and Stephen McDermott

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