Holles Street to investigate breach of patient confidentiality

Friday 23 August 2013 23.47
Holles Street Clinical Director Dr Peter Boylan has expressed his outrage at the incident
Holles Street Clinical Director Dr Peter Boylan has expressed his outrage at the incident

The National Maternity Hospital is to carry out an investigation after details of the circumstances of a woman who underwent a termination under new abortion legislation were leaked to The Irish Times.

Clinical Director Dr Peter Boylan has expressed his outrage at the incident.

The patient's details were reported in today's Irish Times.

Dr Boylan described it as "absolutely unacceptable", unfair and unethical.

He said patient confidentiality was absolutely critical in the hospital's dealings with women, especially those in sensitive situations.

Dr Boylan said if it was a doctor who gave the information, it was completely unethical and not the type of behaviour expected of a serious professional.

He said: "It's outrageous. The breach of patient confidentiality - that's the most serious thing about this whole episode.

“Patients will get the care they deserve, and we will not let any woman die in Holles Street, we will give her the appropriate care. But we will not have her details splashed around the newspapers."

He said the information on the number of abortions carried out by Ireland's hospitals would become available "in a global sense" at the end of the year, when figures would be released by the Department of Health.

However, he said that individual institutions would not be named and patient confidentiality would be maintained.

Dr Boylan said there could be severe consequences for the person who gave the information.

He said: "To give the exact clinical details of a patient to a member of the press is absolutely unethical behaviour by any medical personnel, and if it's a doctor, then this sort of transgression could well end up before the Medical Council."

He said the details allowed the woman to be identified.

The Irish Patients' Association has described the leak as shameful.

The IPA said patient confidentiality was the cornerstone of the healthcare system.

It said such a breach needed to be investigated and the results of such an investigation could be made public with the patient's consent.

The association said it would have been extremely painful for the woman concerned to have the information on her case in the public domain.

In a statement, the Department of Health said the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act was signed into law on 30 July, but that it has not yet commenced.

The department said there are operational issues that need to be addressed before it can commence, but added it will be begin as soon as is practicable.

It said: "These include the establishment of a panel of medical practitioners for the purpose of the formal medical review provisions and administrative facilities to enable the review committee, drawn from the review panel, to perform its functions."

Following the department's statement, The Irish Times updated a story on its website to say that statements regarding terminations in the original version of the story were "incorrect".