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Minister orders probe into leakage of deceased people's details to funeral directors

Relatives have constantly complained of being pestered, in a breach of privacy

The Health Minister has instructed Mater Dei Hospital’s CEO to look into reports of deceased patients’ personal details reaching funeral directors and to keep the police informed.

The son of a patient who died at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre complained that two funeral directors had turned up at his home to offer their unsolicited services even before he had been officially advised by the hospital about the death.

He pointed the finger at hospital staff, accusing them of divulging personal information, giving the undertakers his father’s name and time of death and his address and mobile number.

“Two funeral directors came to my house. One of them was about to ring the doorbell.

“Had he not been stopped by a friend of mine, who arrived just in time, I would have been informed about my father’s death by a funeral director,” the man wrote in a lengthy e-mail to Health Minister Chris Fearne.

There is a system failure

One of the two undertakers even called him the day after.

The hospital management filed a police report on the matter, the distraught relative said. However, he feared that criminal investigations might only lead to “individual sanctioning” and would not address the long-standing abuse that had been occurring for years.

“The fact that there are three other ongoing investigations on similar issues shows there is a system failure and not just an individual shortcoming. It seems that the situation needs to be addressed systemically if such flagrant malpractices are to stop,” he said.

Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses general secretary Colin Galea said such allegations had been made in the past and tended to resurface from time to time. While condemning the practice, Mr Galea noted that many were quick to blame nurses when any staff member – from nursing aids to porters and security personnel – could leak personal information to third parties.

Times of Malta reported last year that relatives who were still coming to terms with the death of their loved ones were being forced to deal with unscrupulous undertakers, who were quick to offer their unsolicited services.

Relatives of deceased hospital patients recounted that they had received calls from “strangers” only moments after their loved ones passed away. In every case, no family member had ever given any funeral director their contact details, with many insisting such information could only have been supplied by hospital staff with access to personal data.

claire.caruana@timesofmalta.com

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