Manto's records under the spotlight

Under no circumstances should a patient’s medical records be disclosed unless he or she gives personal consent, a seminar hosted by the South African Human Rights Commission was told on Tuesday.

Chairperson of the South African Medical Association Dr Kgosi Letlape said medical records should not be disclosed without consent.

“Everyone has a right to be protected by the law against such conduct,” he said in Parktown, Johannesburg, at the SAHRC’s Freedom of Expression vs Privacy seminar.

The panel was discussing the implications of articles published by the Sunday Times about Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, which cast her as an alcoholic and a kleptomaniac.

South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) news chief Snuki Zikalala said the SABC would never have published such a story because they only published stories that would develop the country.

“We are guided by the Constitution not to incite violence or hatred in our reporting.
Publishing such a story is disrespectful.”

Zikalala said all individuals had a right to live, not to be destroyed.

Jane Duncan of the Freedom of Expression Institute said if one behaved badly as a public figure and there was confidential information that the public had an overwhelming interest in, she thought it should be disclosed.

“There was an abuse of power here so one can’t have a reasonable expectation to privacy.”

Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya was expected to be on the panel but according to discussion facilitator Sello Hatang, Makhanya had a death in his family and could not attend.

Docket

Meanwhile, the docket on the theft of Tshabalala-Msimang’s medical records was returned to the police on Monday, said the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

“It became necessary for us to do so because there are certain areas of investigation that still need to receive attention,” said NPA spokesperson Tlali Tlali.

The Cape Town Medi-Clinic brought a complaint of theft after the Sunday Times published a series of articles detailing her alcohol consumption while in the hospital.

“The investigation was carried out by the South African Police Services [SAPS] at the conclusion of which the docket was handed to us for consideration, which happened last week,” said Tlali.

“We have today [Monday] handed the docket back to the police after studying its contents,” he said.

Tlali would not elaborate on the areas requiring further attention.

“I can’t tell you what the areas of investigation are, unfortunately. This is a police investigation; if you want them to say what these areas are, please ask them,” he said.

All he could say was that certain evidence was lacking.

Western Cape police would not confirm the docket had been returned, referring all queries to the NPA.

“Once the SAPS has concluded its work in respect of these areas they will hand the docket back to the prosecuting authorities—to the NPA—for the NPA to look at the docket ... once again and make a decision,” said Tlali.

No decision had been made yet, he said.

The paper reported last week the arrest was imminent of its editor, Makhanya, and deputy managing editor Jocelyn Maker over the theft of Tshabalala-Msimang’s medical records.

However, Western Cape police commissioner Mzwandile Petros said their names were not even mentioned in the docket.

“No decision to arrest, no decision to prosecute has yet been made,” Tlali said on Monday.

He did not know when the additional investigation would be completed and said the police had not been set a deadline for this.

“We have a relationship of mutual cooperation and responsibility,” he said. “We [the NPA] are not an instructing agency.”—Sapa

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