28 March 2023

Effectiveness of Dhulwa inquiry called into question as another alleged data breach linked to nursing union

| Claire Fenwicke
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Emma Davidson sitting in the Legislative Assembly

Further details of alleged patient privacy breaches within health were revealed by both Mental Health Minister Emma Davidson and Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith in the Legislative Assembly. Photo: Region.

The government inquiry into the Dhulwa mental health unit has been called into question after it was revealed it was the source of an alleged breach of patient privacy.

Mental Health Minister Emma Davidson survived a no confidence motion against her in the Legislative Assembly today (28 March), where she revealed the details of 13 patients were allegedly sent from a small team from within the unit.

Region questioned why the 2022 inquiry didn’t pick up the breaches, which Canberra Liberals Deputy Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson said was disturbing.

“It casts some doubt now over whether that inquiry has provided all the answers and recommendations and uncovered everything that’s going wrong,” he said.

“But it is clear there are systemic failures in health – in mental health and across the whole health system.”

Mr Hanson accused the government of trying to keep the alleged data breach a secret and called the way information had been released by the Minister “appalling”.

“It is a drip feed of information, it’s been chaotic, it’s been contradictory statements about the reason why she can’t provide information … then you’ve got bureaucrats providing information that the minister has said couldn’t be provided,” he said.

“It’s quite clear that instead of coming forward and making a clear statement about what’s happened, what’s gone wrong, and what the government’s going to do about it, every piece of information has essentially been forced out of this government.

“It’s only when you’ve seen information provided by the bureaucrats that then she’s sort of come back and said ‘well, I’ll give you some information’.”

READ ALSO Union attempts to drag CHS executives and Minister into privacy breach web as affair heads for legal showdown

During Questions Without Notice, both Ms Davidson and Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith were grilled further about alleged privacy breaches.

Ms Stephen-Smith was questioned about reports a senior nurse had also been stood down over an alleged breach.

She advised the nurse had voluntarily admitted to a “mistake” to their supervisor.

“The breach did involve the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“CHS [Canberra Health Services] has been very clear they treat all team members the same, whether they are senior or junior, and the team member was stood down pending investigation.”

Ms Stephen-Smith advised that while CHS doesn’t have a single system that keeps track of alleged breaches, eight other incidents where patient data had allegedly been accessed were identified, which had led to termination, misconduct investigations or referrals to external bodies.

“But none of those matters are of a similar nature to the breach [allegedly from Dhulwa] … which CHS has said was deliberate and sustained over a number of years,” she said.

“There was and there is no evidence that this type of [sustained] activity was widespread in the organisation.”

READ ALSO Brindabella College reform group goes public: ‘we can’t be harmed anymore’

When asked specifically about the Dhulwa inquiry, Ms Davidson said an independent oversight body was being set up to make sure all recommendations were implemented effectively.

“I can also tell you a number of educational and training elements of those Dhulwa inquiry recommendations have been scheduled for staff, we have already started the work,” she said.

It’s expected the body’s first meeting will be in April.

Region sent questions to Ms Davidson asking how the inquiry could have missed the alleged breaches and how the integrity of the inquiry could be assured.

Ms Davidson responded that the final report identified and was “concerned by allegations by numerous stakeholders concerning breaches of privacy and confidentiality relating to consumers, which may have amounted to a breach of their human rights”.

“I am confident that the Independent Board of Inquiry has provided a comprehensive review and provided substantive recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the ACT Government, which is committed to delivering a complete implementation of all the recommendations by 1 March 2024,” she said.

She invited the community to read the full report and again thanked those involved for their input.

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