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Staff accused of breaching HIV privacy

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    Staff accused of breaching HIV privacy - 29-Dec-2007
    Medical staff are regularly breaching privacy laws by leaking highly sensitive information about HIV- positive women to others, a support group says.

    Positive Women national coordinator Jane Bruning told The Dominion Post that doctors, nurses and midwives across the country have devastated patients by disclosing confidential information to their families and spouses without their knowledge.

    Alleged cases include:

    * A doctor who told staff at the nursing college where a woman with HIV was studying.

    * A doctor who went to the home of a woman who had tested positive and told her results to the first person who answered the door the landlady.

    * A doctor who told the husband of a woman who had tested positive before telling her.

    * Patient details left in full public view at an infectious diseases outpatient clinic.

    "They're absolutely devastated by it. It absolutely shatters them," Ms Bruning said.

    "We get continually surprised at the number of times we hear about breaches of confidentiality and discrimination by doctors, nurses and midwives."

    About half of the group's 90 members nationwide had experienced the problem, which occurred more often in smaller towns.

    Most women did not want to file an official complaint for fear of making their condition even more public, she said.

    "People living with HIV are very scared and don't want anyone to know."

    About 2000 people in New Zealand have HIV or Aids. Eighty-four were diagnosed between January and June.

    Medical Association chairman Peter Foley said doctors disclosed patients' information only in "exceptional" circumstances.

    "I would be extremely surprised if a doctor shared information in the way that's being suggested.

    "It's not a decision doctors take lightly. Patients should be able to have the utmost confidence the information they share with their doctor is confidential."

    Aids Foundation executive director Rachael Le Mesurier said people with HIV had their status disclosed without their consent "across the board" by medical practitioners, employers, officials and family members.

    When it happened, the consequences could be quite serious. "It's a salient reminder to all, particularly those in positions of trust and authority, to treat matters relating to a person's HIV status with the utmost respect and confidentiality."

    The Privacy Commission said disclosure of a person's HIV status might be permitted in "limited circumstances", but only to avert "serious and imminent risk" to someone's safety.

    Commissioner Marie Shroff said people had the right to have this sensitive information treated with great care and respect.

    "If people are concerned it may have been inappropriately disclosed, they can make a complaint to me and ask me to investigate."
    Ref: - The Dominion Post


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