Ministry of Health and Schools breach
by Scientist / Teacher
(Microsoft Innovative Teacher, Ministry
of Education eLearning Fellow, Medical Microbiologist)
This article reamains for two
- For historical purposes
- To show that parents and students have
particular rights that can be easily eroded.
First, the good news...the head of the programme
contacted me directly and confirmed that improvements to the process
needed to be made as a consequence of receiving this article.
Unfortunately, the school I raised my concerns with as
a parent did not respond.
A letter in the post...not very helpful...
I received a letter from the local
District Health Board Public Nurse about the New Zealand Gardasil Human
Papilloma Virus (HPV) Immunisation programme.
- The name of the Public Nurse was NOT stated
- Another person had scribbled an illegible
- The invitation to contact the Public Nurse
if I had any queries 'on the number below' was unhelpful since the
phone number was omitted.
I had to phone the general number for the Health
Board and finally got put on to an administrator who said that the
Health Board would have accessed our daughters school roll data to get
information such as postal address, etc.
Its not the first time concerns have been
Media articles raising public awareness of
this problem seem to have gone unnoticed by various District Health
Boards. The Manawatu Standard published an item by JANINE
RANKIN. An excerpt is below...
"The Privacy Commission
will investigate how schools released schoolgirls' contact details as
part of the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccination programme.
The programme's planned to continue next year to
reach another three year groups, and in future will be routine for Year
Assistant privacy commissioner Katrine Evans
said getting the process right for the future is important.
"Letting parents and students know exactly what
will happen with their information is vital.
"If people lose confidence that their
information will be properly handled, they're less likely to
participate in this very important public health programme."
Mrs Evans said the commission wanted to find out
exactly what happened with the release of school roll data, and why
there appeared to be such a variety of approaches taken by schools.
Schools that decided to provide contact
information directly from their rolls to the school-based vaccination
system, to enable follow-up when vaccination consent forms weren't
returned, would be under particular scrutiny.
The commission advised that
information release was OK to support a public health issue of
considerable importance so long as parents knew about it in advance."
Ministry timeline comes at the expense of
student and parent privacy?
According to one article, the MidCentral
Health made a formal request for roll information in the last week of
January, with a request it be provided by February 13. I have checked
our school newsletter for December 2008 and January/February 2009 and
there is no mention of private information being passed on to another
In spite of the media publicity such as
the example above, staff I talked to via our local District Health
Board were unaware of the controversy surrounding the issues of
consent. I was told that I should take the matter up with the school
BOT. While I intend to do so, it is my opinion that this is just
'passing the buck'.
The Ministry of Education advice was
unambiguous that parents had to be informed before school roll data was
shared with the Ministry of Health; see Ministry
of Education update to Principals and Boards 14 October 2008
Why is this so important?
Too often in my experience I have seen
'policy' and 'procedure' used as excuses for what was poor management.
Was the HPV programme rushed? This might also explain the errors in the DVD and the
current confusion as to what protection parents and families have from
a 'Big Brother' approach to private information. It does not take a big
leap of the imagination to forsee that legislation can be used to force
medical procedures on citizens. While I am not saying this is likely
now, it is the blind unquestioning following of 'rules' that can lead
an apathetic society to such a nightmare.
It is important and
appropriate for academics to question the motives and authority of
governing organisations to maintain the public trust and avoid
repeating past mistakes that cause confusion or distract from the more
I would say that the intent of the HPV
programme was to provide a medical treatment for those that could
benefit the most. These other matters distract from that intent.
1. I do not
accept that a group of parents making up the school Board of Trustees
has the right to pass on private and confidential information about
children of other parents in the school community. While many or
all on the BOT may think the HPV programme is useful, other parents may
have credible and justifed science-based reasons for not wanting to
take up the vaccination offer. Others may have cultural or religious
reasons. Boards that assume 'they know best' in this instance could be
seen as condescending and arrogant.
2. Schools do not have to pass
on information just because an 'official' body, government or
otherwise, requests it. In 'Private
Word'- Issue 70 and
other articles Privacy Commission advice had been clear that before
school roll data could be shared, school communities should be
notified, and parents and girls given the opportunity to opt out. This
is further supported by the Ministry
of Education / Ministry of Health update to Principals and Boards 14
3. I do not believe that
coercion or bullying was the intent of sending out follow up letters. In my experience of management
and bureaucracy, and the way various Ministry departments operate, I
would suggest that this is simply another case of rushing to get a job
done without a common and clear understanding by all parties of the
requirements that had to be met first. Some 'boxes were ticked off',
but it seems the issue of gaining proper consent to collect data was
4. As an aside, there is a big
difference in the process of being vaccinated, which is what ALL 'jabs' or 'shots' involve,
and the process of becoming immunised. The apparent on-going and deliberate use of the word
'immunise' is leading because it suggests that the shot will work 100%
of the time in 100% of individuals, and those that do not get the shot
are at risk and unimmunised. In New Zealand we do not test individuals
prior to vaccination to see if they already possess immunity. Also we
do not bother testing if individuals that are vaccinated develop useful
immunity. Arguments about the costs of testing are irrelevant and red
herrings to distract from focusing on the real issue...that there
appears a trend to dumb science down or
twist science concepts to suit particular agendas.
5. Thanks to Rayoni Keith from the
MoH for a useful discussion about planned improvements to the next
phase of the HPV programme in schools.