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I've Bent Over backwards - Dr Karen Poutasi

Commission Of Inquiry's Request To The Director General Of Health For Information Regarding Women With Cervical Cancer.

Director-General of Health Dr Karen Poutasi says she has bent over backwards to comply with a request from the Cervical Screening Inquiry for information from national cancer databases.

"Suggestions that I have refused to comply with the request, or that I am in some way thwarting the Inquiry's ability to do its job, are a nonsense. I have supplied almost all of the information which Cervical Screening Inquiry chair Ailsa Duffy requested under subpoena," Dr Poutasi said today.

"The only information I was unable to provide was that which I am legally unable to do because Section 74A of the Health Act specifically prohibits it. However because of the genuine and legitimate interest in accessing this information the Ministry of Health is currently working on advice to Government about options for amending that part of the act to enable this."

"Neither of these actions constitutes refusal to comply with a request - except perhaps in a headline writer's mind."

The subpoena from Ms Duffy followed Professor David Skegg's evidence about the difficulty of researching cervical cancer because of difficulties in getting access to information held in the cancer register and the cervical screening register.

"Acting on advice from the Crown Law Office I have provided Ms Duffy with as much information as it was possible to release. This included information from the Cancer Register which identifies individual women. I specifically asked that this information be treated confidentially," Dr Poutasi said.

"However S74A of the Health Act 1956 specifically protects the information held on the Cervical Screening Register. My legal advice was that I would be in breach of that Act were I to release information from that register which identified individual women.

"We want Professor Skegg's research to happen. We are committed to a national cervical screening programme which delivers the best quality service for New Zealand women.

"We have tried to make it possible by supplying information. However having been advised that it would be in breach of the Health Act's provisions on patient confidentiality if we did provide all the information requested I had no choice but to withhold women's identifiying details on the Cervical Screening Register.

"I believe we have gone as far as legally possible to facilitate the Inquiry's request and Professor Skegg's research.

"If it is still not possible for Professor Skegg to do the research we will be working with him to identify other ways of approaching it. "

Dr Poutasi said the Ministry of Health is advising the Government on options for allowing audits of the information on the National Cervical Register and cancer research.

For more information contact:

Frances Ross Chief media advisor tel: 496 2202/025 512 833

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