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Dublin: 14 °C Thursday 18 April, 2019
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'Grotesque and reprehensible': Harris 'extraordinarily concerned' over alleged leak of patient's details after abortion

A number of investigations are under way into the allegations, which were first reported by TheJournal.ie yesterday.

Simon Harris dubbed the alleged leak of the woman's details as 'reprehensible'.
Simon Harris dubbed the alleged leak of the woman's details as 'reprehensible'.
Image: Leah Farrell

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON HARRIS has said it is “extraordinarily concerning and disturbing” that a patient’s details could have been leaked after she had an abortion at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street (NMH), in Dublin this week.

A number of investigations are underway into the allegations, which were first reported by TheJournal.ie yesterday.  A HSE investigation into the allegations that emerged on social media is now taking place.

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 minister yesterday.  Speaking at an event in Dublin today, Harris said he is very concerned “that any patients details could be leaked. We have worked extremely hard as a health service and I think as a country to try and firstly legalise the termination of pregnancy in our own country, and then make sure it is a safe and normal part of the health service”. He added:

There has been huge clinical leadership to make sure that could happen, there were dates set for the introduction of services, that many said wouldn’t be met and were met thanks to the leadership of the clinical community.
The idea that anybody might leak a woman’s confidential information is reprehensible, it is grotesque, it’s disgusting and that is why I asked the HSE yesterday to investigate the matter and report back.

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. 

The National Maternity Hospital has said it will 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.”

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 head of communications at the Office of the Data Protection Commission also confirmed to TheJournal.ie that it is “currently making enquiries” 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. 

Trusted HSE service

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