10 Jul 2020

Doctor outraged that rescue helicopter trusts given Covid-19 patient details

8:13 am on 10 July 2020

An intensive care doctor is outraged health officials are giving helicopter rescue trusts a daily list of Covid-19 patients, saying it's completely unnecessary.

Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust helicopter

An Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust helicopter. Photo: Supplied / Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust

National MP Hamish Walker resigned after leaking the list of names and addresses he got from Michelle Boag, the acting chief executive of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT).

She has also resigned from the trust and was later removed as a trustee.

It's now led to questions over whether too many people have access to the sensitive patient information.

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Hamish Walker and Michelle Boag. Photo: RNZ & Boag Allan SvG

Auckland Hospital intensive care specialist Shay McGuinness worked for the ARHT until last year.

His view was crystal clear - Boag or any other chief executive do not need to know who is infected with Covid-19.

"The positive patients for the last two months have all been kept in a single quarantine hotel at Auckland Airport and it is just impossible to fathom how anybody would think a rescue helicopter was going to be responded to a hotel, that is some seven minutes drive from Middlemore Hospital emergency department, which is the largest emergency department in the country," McGuinness said.

He struggled to see why the ARHT should be given the patient lists even if there were hundreds of cases across the country.

"Early on when we were in level 4 lockdown ... level 3 lockdown, the ambulance services were treating any patient who had respiratory symptoms as a possible Covid patient and wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. So actually knowing the identity and being sent a list of patients is just not helpful," McGuinness said.

RNZ has spoken to the head of another rescue helicopter trust who confirmed they had also been receiving a daily list of Covid-19 patients.

They declined to be interviewed, but told RNZ the information - which they said was clearly labelled as confidential - was "sensible" and "helpful".

McGuinness said it was too big a risk.

"Fundamentally there's been a failure from the Ministry of Health in releasing too much information to too many people, and what that means is the risk of somebody doing the wrong thing, either deliberately or accidentally, and allowing the release of personal information to people who just don't need to know it just gets bigger and bigger," he said.

At the start of the week, the government ordered a state services inquiry to hunt down the leakers.

While the public confessions have made that job much easier, Mike Heron QC will continue to investigate how many people got the information and whether

they should have.

Part of that will likely include getting to the bottom of Boag's involvement and why she was not using her official trust email account.

When announcing her involvement in the leak saga, Boag said the patient details were sent to her private email address. She has since told RNZ it was actually sent to the email address linked to her PR and political consultancy company, Boag Allan SvG.

RNZ understands Boag used that email address for all of her communication with the Ministry of Heath and District Health Boards.

The Ministry refused to comment.

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