Earlier in November, Nova Scotia’s Privacy Commissioner, Catherine Tully, revealed that health officials had been caught “snooping” on 335 patient health records.
This is such a serious invasion of privacy that it is a prosecutable offence.
Tully’s annual report said an investigation into the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSGA) revealed “a dangerous and insidious culture of entitlement” into viewing records. Anyone who has dealt with the NSHA knows that “culture of entitlement” extends well beyond patient files.
Curiously, the commissioner noted that the NSHA had co-operated with the investigation. Did they have choice? Could they have refused?
Read the article here:
After the story broke Colin Stevenson, vice president of quality and system performance at the NSHA wrote a letter to the editor of The Herald to explain how seriously the authority takes personal privacy. He, like the rest of the crew at the NSHA, did not say they were sorry patient privacy was violated. This was no doubt done on the advice of lawyers who caution to never apologize lest it be seen as an admission of guilt. But guess what? The commissioner already said there is guilt.
Stevenson’s letter spoke of “the failure of an employee…” except this wasn’t the failure of one employee, it was six employees at multiple sites in the NSHA’s Central Zone (that’s head office area). This raises numerous questions:
- Were these employees, who the commissioner liken as “health officials”, doing this for personal prurient interest ?
- Was it revenge?
- Since six health officials in one area were involved, was this a coordinated action?
- If it was coordinated, to what purpose? Was it personal gain, some political objective or in connection with some criminal enterprise? (There have been instances across Canada where patient files were illegally accessed for the purpose of acquiring drugs.)
Stevenson’s letter can be found here:
Ironically, the identities of the officials accused of illegally accessing patient files have been protected as has any action taken against the staff. The NSHA is good at working privacy rules to protect themselves.
This is not the first time health officials/employees have improperly/illegally accessed patient files.
In October 2018 a six-year-long violation (2005-11) of 120 patient files at the Hants Community Hospital was revealed. At the time Capital Health described this as “inappropriate access”. This resulted in a $400,000 settlement to patients.
A 2012 violation of 707 patient files at the Roseway Hospital came to light in 2017. That cost Nova Scotia taxpayers a $1 million settlement, plus legal costs as well as administrative and investigative costs.
Interestingly, a previous substantial violation and the most recent one were done by employees working in the former Capital Health Authority’s facilities, which is now the NSHA’s Central Zone. That’s significant because these violations were done right under the noses of senior management. This wasn’t done at some distant location executives never set foot in. If they don’t know what’s happening under their noses, how can we trust that they are on top of every day operations across the province? Have there been consequences for executives who fail to monitor those in their employ?
Each time a violation is uncovered, the health authority du jour issues a statement that it takes “its commitment to personal privacy seriously and it’s essential that patients can trust their personal information is protected.” Yet violations continue.
Platitudes aren’t good enough. The public deserves a detailed explanation for why these NSHA staff were looking at patient files.
There is no legal right to privacy for an accused. We need to know their name, their position and the purpose of their violations. And what consequences there are for them, the patients and the taxpayer.