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New privacy and info sharing support

New privacy and information-sharing support for mental health services

Sensitive privacy and information-sharing issues for mental health services have been targeted in a new national statement aimed at making sure health professionals understand their obligations.

Ministry of Health Director of Mental Health Dr David Chaplow said today that the statement, along with a checklist, were also aimed at reassuring patients, their families and other agencies that privacy issues were being handled appropriately, according to nationally consistent standards.

The statement and checklist were developed after Health Minister Annette King asked the Mental Health Commission to review privacy and information-sharing policies in District Health Boards' mental health services.

Ms King requested the review following the Auckland Coroner's inquest into the deaths of Lachlan Jones and Malcolm Beggs.

``DHBs need to be clear about their privacy and information-sharing policies, so staff know when to give relevant advice to the right person, at the right time,'' Dr Chaplow said.

``The balance between individual privacy and the community's need to know things is something we all struggle with, particularly with sensitive personal information. This becomes even more critical where mental illness is involved, when we look at real issues of risk against perceived issues of risk, and potential discrimination.

``Good policies, education and training packages for mental health workers at DHBs will help reassure people with a mental illness, their families and other agencies that individual issues are being safely managed, in a way that allows services to respond promptly to requests for information.''

The national statement and checklist are not intended to provide a comprehensive guide to information-sharing, but will help DHBs develop and implement appropriate policies, as well as training programmes for staff.

``It's important that health professionals such as mental health service workers have as much support as possible when dealing with some of society's most vulnerable people,'' Dr Chaplow said.

``That's why good training programmes are essential -- there's no point having policies and guidelines if the people who are often the first contact for those with mental health issues do not know how best to implement them.''

Dr Chaplow noted that most people with a mental health illness live successful and productive lives in the community in private, and if the situation changed, many of them might face difficulties caused by community fear based on inaccurate perceptions of mental illness.

He acknowledged that some DHBs already have privacy policies and training programmes that meet the requirements of the national statement and information checklist.

Ministry staff, along with two DHB privacy officers, will be available to help DHBs with their plans. It is expected final draft policies will be completed by DHBs within the next six months.

The national statement focuses on what good policies, education and training packages should contain. The information checklist provides a prompt for DHB mental health services on the sorts of questions they should ask when they get requests for personal information.


In 2001 Health Minister Annette King asked the Mental Health Commission to review the implementation of privacy legislation in mental health services after the Auckland Coroner's inquest into the deaths of Lachlan Jones and Malcolm Beggs.

In February 2002, the Commission reported its findings. These included: a lack of clear, consistent and good quality information-sharing policies specifically written for mental health services; a lack of informing people using the services about the purpose, use and disclosure of information about themselves; and difficulties sharing information across services, with families and other appropriate organisations.

The new national statement and information checklist were subsequently developed by representatives of the Ministry and DHBs, working closely with a 10-person reference group.

For more information on the national statement and checklist, go to http://www.moh.govt.nz

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