National MP Walker admits leaking Covid-19 patient details

National MP Walker admits leaking Covid-19 patient details

Sourced Content
Wellington, July 7, 2020

National MP Hamish Walker (RNZ Picture by Rebekah Parsons-King)

Acting Chief Executive of Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust and former National Party President Michelle Boag has confirmed that she gave the patient details to National MP Hamish Walker.

In a statement, Mr Walker said: “I passed to members of the media by email information containing Covid-19 patient details that was given to me by a source.”

He said that he did this to expose the government’s shortcomings so that they would be rectified.

“It was never intended that the personal details would be made public, and they have not been, either by me or the persons I forwarded them to. I have received legal advice that I have not committed any criminal offence,” he said.

“Massive error of judgement”

Mr Walker said that he sincerely apologised for how he handled the information and to the individuals impacted and would be “fully cooperating with the Michael Heron QC inquiry.”

In a statement, Ms Boag said that handing on the patient details to Walker was “a massive error of judgement on my part and I apologise to my colleagues at Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, whom I have let down badly.”

“I very much regret my actions and did not anticipate that Hamish would choose to send it on to some media outlets but I am grateful that the media involved have chosen not to publish the 18 names that were contained within it,” she said.

Ms Boag said that she had resigned from her role at the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust.

“I take full responsibility for my actions and have resigned as Acting CEO.

She was the National Party’s President in 2001 and 2002.

How the situation unfolded

The breach was reported on the morning of 4 July.

RNZ and three other media organisations were provided details including the full names, addresses, ages and quarantine locations of the 18 active Covid-19 cases at that time.

The State Services Commission had already been called in to make sure that a “thorough investigation” was held. State Services Minister Chris Hipkins said that the fact the information had been given out was totally unacceptable.

Before the end of the day, he was saying that the government would do everything it could to track down those responsible and was not ruling out pursuing criminal charges.

By the morning of Monday July 6, 2020, the hunt for the source was on, with the potential that the communications of everyone in the government’s Covid-19 response could be trawled through.

The inquiry was set to be headed by Michael Heron QC, with three weeks to report back.

Hamish Walker Statement

I have spoken to National Party Leader Todd Muller and informed him that I passed to members of the media by email information containing Covid-19 patient details that was given to me by a source. I did this to expose the government’s shortcomings so they would be rectified. It was never intended that the personal details would be made public, and they have not been, either by me or the persons I forwarded them to.

I have received legal advice that I have not committed any criminal offence.

The information that I received was not password protected by the Government. It was not stored on a secure system where authorised people needed to log on. There was no redaction to protect patient details, and no confidentiality statement on the document.

By exposing a significant privacy issue, I hope that the Government will improve its protocols and get its safeguards right.

I made serious allegations against the government’s Covid-19 response and passed on this information to prove those allegations.

Private health information does not have basic safeguards in place and the Government needs to immediately change its protocols and store the information on a secure, safe network that at a minimum requires a password.

I sincerely apologise for how I have handled this information and to the individuals impacted by this. I will be fully cooperating with the Michael Heron QC inquiry.

Todd Muller Statement

Hamish Walker has informed me that he received and then disclosed health information regarding active Covid-19 cases to members of the media. 

I have asked Hamish to acknowledge this to Michael Heron QC and cooperate fully with his inquiry into how the information made it into the public domain. 

I have expressed to Hamish my view that forwarding on this information was an error of judgement. 

While I wait for the result of the inquiry I have transferred his Forestry, Land Information and Associate Tourism portfolio responsibilities to Ian McKelvie.

Given this matter is the subject of an inquiry I will not be making any further public comment.

-Published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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