JOHANNESBURG – The National Health Laboratory Services has been accused of unlawfully sharing patients’ medical records, thus opening itself up to criminal and civil claims for breach of confidentiality.
Eyewitness News understands that the details are contained in a legal opinion obtained by the group’s legal services manager in July last year but the sharing of records with NGOs has not stopped.
The Health Department says it has since obtained another legal opinion which found the practice to be both ethical and lawful.
The Hogan Lovells legal opinion has described the infringement to the right to privacy and confidentially of patients as being of epic proportions, adding that it is comparable to a data breach punishable by both private and criminal law.
The National Health Laboratory Services provides lab services for the national and provincial health departments or about 80% of the country’s population.
When a patient’s information is collected, express permission is needed to distribute or share data.
It’s been found that data, particularly that of HIV positive patients, is being shared with NGOs who are responsible for ensuring that the patients stick to their medication regime.
The Health Department’s Popo Maja says he is aware of this legal opinion, but a second opinion sought from senior counsel, who is also a doctor, found the practice to be ethical and lawful.
Maja did not provide EWN with this second opinion.
He says the NGOs being given the data are part of the patients’ treatment network and insists that the department will always act in the interests of the patients and public health.
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