'Rats out of the HSE': Protesters want external probe into claims abortion details were leaked

The HSE is probing claims that a woman was phoned and harassed by a man who had obtained her personal information.

A ‘RATS OUT of the HSE’ protest was staged at the Department of Health’s Baggot Street office in Dublin today, calling for better protection of patient information and for an external investigation to be launched into last week’s revelations of apparent data breaches.

A number of investigations were launched last week into claims that a woman who had an abortion at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin was phoned and harassed by a man who had obtained her personal information.

Meanwhile anti-abortion protesters claimed on Friday that they were being provided with information on when abortions were scheduled to take place at Our Lady Of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

Councillor Éilis Ryan of The Workers’ Party, one of the organisers of today’s demonstration, said the HSE needed to outline the steps it had taken to ensure that staff were providing abortion services in a fair and transparent manner.

When abortion services were introduced at the start of last month, Ryan said, “it doesn’t seem that any thought was put into how to change the culture of our hospitals to ensure people who might have anti-choice feelings themselves are not biased in how they carry out their healthcare provision”.

Ryan said that the only thing Health Minister Simon Harris had committed to so far was an internal probe, but “given the scale of scandals linking to the HSE in recent years we don’t feel that an internal investigation can be trusted or is sufficient”.

Ryan suggested Gabriel Scally, who carried out the review of the Cervical Check screening programme, may be an appropriate person to investigate the possible leaking of information.

Around a dozen people – carrying placards and holding cut-out rat masks – took part in the lunchtime protest at Miesian Plaza, the site of the former Bank of Ireland on Baggot St.

5901 Rats_90563441 Masked 'rat' protestors gather at the Dept of Health this afternoon. Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

Seamus McDonagh, who travelled from Kells to take part, said he was concerned about protesters “openly boasting” about having access to information about abortions at Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda, his local hospital.

“It’s difficult enough having an abortion without being harassed by these people,” McDonagh said.

The HSE have to take responsibility for how the information is getting out to these people and we have to stop that.

Simon Harris said on Friday  that it was “extraordinarily concerning and disturbing” that a patient’s details could have been leaked after she had an abortion. 

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 HSE, the Dublin Well Woman Clinic, the National Maternity Hospital and the Data Protection Commissioner are making inquiries into the alleged incident. 

The Data Protection Commissioner is also looking into reports of data leaks at Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda. A hospital spokesperson said on Friday that “all staff are aware of their obligations under the relevant Data Protection legislation and are continually made aware of the importance of patient confidentiality”.

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