Ministry of Health issues breach of confidence to Auckland Helicopter Rescue Trust following COVID-19 patient leak

The Ministry of Health has issued a breach of confidence notice to the Auckland Helicopter Rescue Trust (AHRT) following the leak of private COVID-19 patient details.

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed the Ministry has contacted 18 people who had their details leaked in what Health Minister Chris Hipkins called a "disgraceful and grubby act" for "political purposes". 

The leak was perpetrated by then-National MP Hamish Walker and then-Acting chief executive of the AHRT and ex-National Party president Michelle Boag.

On Thursday the results of a probe led by Michael Heron QC confirmed Boag received the details then passed them, without authorisation, to Walker who shared them with media organisations in an effort to prove he wasn't a racist. The probe found it was an act of self-preservation following controversy over a statement Walker wrote claiming thousands of people from "India, Korea and Pakistan" could be quarantined in Southland. 

The probe also found the Ministry of Health could have protected the confidential information better and it's policy of sending them out to third parties such as the AHRT should have been reviewed sooner. 

Bloomfield said on Thursday the Ministry immediately stopped sharing the patient details with external parties, and reviewed it's processes to ensure if third parties need the information there is a clear reason for them to receive it.

"I should say that there was already a clear policy in place and information was shared in line with that," he said. 

He confirmed in future any confidential information would be shared using password protection.

He says the breach of contract notice issued to AHRT is "is in line with the legal requirements of our contract."

Hipkins said although weaknesses had been identified in the Ministry's process, swift action had been taken to prevent such leaks happening again.

"The system, like all systems, relied on the integrity of all the organisations that received that sensitive information," said Hipkins on Thursday.

"All of those health organisations and professionals acted as New Zealand would expect - all except one," he continued.

"No system can prevent such deliberate acts by malevolently motivated individuals."