FROM: Dr Ross Boswell, Deputy Chairman
DATE: Monday, 22 September, 2003
NZMA Supports Patients’ Rights to Privacy
The proposal of the Health Select Committee that the Health (Screening Programmes) Amendment Bill should be amended to allow access, without specific consent, to the primary health care records of women is of real concern, says Deputy Chairman of the New Zealand Medical Association Dr Ross Boswell.
‘The NZMA believes that informed consent should be gained for primary care, private specialist and private hospital records,’ he says. ‘All sorts of patient data are held on medical records, which women may not wish to have accessed or audited. Only information directly relevant to the evaluators’ requirements should be made accessible. We do not think women would knowingly agree to all their health information being accessed in this way as part of a systems audit.’
Dr Boswell says that women who enrol with the National Cervical Screening Programme should be provided with full information, which includes informed consent for access to their records, at the time of their initial smear so that they are able to make an informed decision about enrolling in the Programme.
‘We suggest that generic consent should be sought at presentation to a public hospital, and information on screening programmes and evaluation should be provided at all levels,’ he says.
Dr Boswell says that the NZMA is concerned that some women who feel uncomfortable about access to their full medical records may choose to opt off the Programme entirely. ‘This risk has not been fully assessed,’ he says. ‘There are many women who fear exposure of their private and sexual histories.’
‘We support evaluation of the Programme, but believe very strongly that a systems audit at each and every level should aim to anonymise the patient data as much as and as promptly as possible.’
‘The NZMA is pleased that the Committee recommends that the coverage of the Bill is limited to the NCSP, as recommended in our submission.’
The NZMA recommends women have regular smears as part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.