BC Health Ministry admits to data sharing scandal

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The provincial government of British Columbia has fired four employees and suspended three others after allegations that health data was shared inappropriately.

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid announced that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is involved with an investigation into the relationship between government employees and third-party drug researchers.

MacDiarmid told the Vancouver Sun that the misconduct involved the use of personal data – including information about medications – for research purposes when it had not been provided for that purpose. Relationships between people that would create a conflict of interest had been undeclared, added the Minister, newly appointed in a cabinet reshuffle.

The BC government immediately took several measures, even though the investigation has not yet concluded. Contracts and data access were suspended for two contractors, and all ministry data sharing with drug and evidence development researchers has been temporarily frozen.

The assistant deputy minister will now approve all spending by the government's pharmaceutical services division, and the ministry's contract management branch must approve all new contracts. An independent consultant will be bought in to audit data security measures, it added.

The terminations come after the introduction of provincial legislation in the spring, called Bill 35. The bill made it easier for third-party contracts to gain access to health data.

B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham warned at the time that the bill failed to include sufficient privacy safeguards.



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