The HSE has confirmed to the Offaly Independent that it can no longer facilitate clerics in the county with access to a list of patients at the Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore, for pastoral visits, breaking a long tradition between health authorities and religious personnel, because giving information to a third party breaches data protection legislation.
Since mid-January, the new visitor policy means it will not be possible for priests to know the people from the parish who are in hospital unless they have the name of the patient in advance, a development which has caused some difficulties for priests or ministers in the county who visit people in hospital on a regular basis and to some patients who are upset by the change.
Daingean’s Fr Patrick O’Byrne remarked that the change in policy has been an awful nuisance for local clerics as they no longer have any access to admission lists to visit people in hospital as had been the case for many years.
He said he now has to know beforehand someone is in hospital before he can go and visit them, encouraging his parishioners to get in touch if they have a relative or friend who would appreciate a pastoral visit.
Fr O’Byrne added that just last week he visited a person from Daingean in Tullamore Hospital, but subsequently found out afterwards that there were a number of other people from the area in the hospital, but without access to the admission lists he didn’t know at the time and couldn’t stop by.
In a statement, the Health Service Executive said the Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore respects the spiritual practice of all denominations but due to data protection legislation they can no longer give out personal information to a third party. “As carers, our staff understand the stress and difficulties experienced by the patient, his/her family and loved ones during a hospital stay. However, data protection legislation stipulates that, as a public body, the HSE must keep personal information safe and secure and that the use and disclosure of this information must be compatible with why it is collected in the first instance.”
“However, the HSE stressed that it fully recognises and accepts that every patient has the right to spiritual expression and access to pastor and care from chaplin/ministers of the patient’s own faith.