Turkish Health Ministry’s move to collect info on psychiatric patients dubbed ‘scandal’

Turkish Health Ministry’s move to collect info on psychiatric patients dubbed ‘scandal’

Meltem Özgenç - ANKARA
Turkish Health Ministry’s move to collect info on psychiatric patients dubbed ‘scandal’ Turkey’s Health Ministry has asked primary care physicians to provide the personal identity information of their psychiatric patients, in a move described by the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) as a “scandal.”

A letter from the Health Ministry was sent to District Community Centers across the country on May 8, asking for the name and surname, identity card number, address and diagnosis of all psychiatric patients being cared for by primary care physicians. 

The ministry has defended its instruction by citing its need to “designate the number of patients who have been registered at community mental health centers.”

In a statement on May 29, Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu denied claims that his ministry attempted to collect the personal information of psychiatric patients in Turkey, adding it is the ministry’s duty to know disease densities in neighborhoods.

“It is the duty and responsibility of the Health Ministry and its related department to be informed about the density of a disease in a neighborhood and take necessary measures. However, it is nobody’s right or duty to learn the identity of those patients. There is no such practice,” said Müezzinoğlu responding to a question about recent reports regarding the ministry’s “blacklisting” psychiatric patients.

Meanwhile, TTB President Bayazıt İlhan slammed the ministry's move. 

“This is a practice against human rights. You cannot record and send this information without permission from the individual. It may lead to very unfortunate results. There is a need to be very careful about this issue,” İlhan said. 

The letter from the ministry read that “The number of patients with chronic psychotic disorders (schizophrenia, paranoia, bipolar disorder, etc.) must be sent in files including their name and surname, identity card number, address and diagnosis.” 

TTB President İlhan said this could amount to “blacklisting.” 

“This is embarrassing information. Essentially such a practice amounts to blacklisting,” he added.

İlhan said the TTB had been struggling for years for the protection of personal health records privacy, filing a number of lawsuits to this end. 

“But still nothing has changed. This practice is entirely against privacy. While preparing and sending patients’ data, you don’t get permission from the patient. If the patient is willing to go to community mental health centers, then you guide them. However, if they don’t want to, you cannot access their name, address and telephone number by force,” he said.

“The results of this request could be very unfortunate,” İlhan added. “Just think of a person who doesn’t want their illness to be known by their family, friends or at their workplace. What if one day all their private information is on everyone’s lips. Think about the results … It’s a scandal.”

Officials from the Health Ministry said the move had been taken considering patients’ better treatment.
“The issue has nothing to do with blacklisting. This initiative has been taken in order to provide treatment of patients at community mental health centers,” officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Hürriyet.