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Doctors are crying foul about a law that gives the Nova Scotia government access to its citizens’ medical records.

Passed last week after receiving royal assent, Nova Scotia’s Bill 419 granted the government sweeping access to private medical records, sparking a wave of concern among healthcare professionals and MLAs.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia initially warned about the province’s recent bill, raising specific concerns about the clause granting government access to citizens’ private medical data.

“This new law will require all physicians to enable access to their medical records for the minister. For physicians, this creates a new professional legal duty. And for patients, it means the entirety of their medical records will be accessible to government,” Dr. Gus Grant, CEO of the Nova Scotia medical college, told a legislative committee. “I see it as the responsibility of the college to speak on behalf of the public, which I would expect is largely unaware of this seemingly innocuous amendment and its potential consequences.”

According to the bill’s official summary, clause 110 allows the government to “make regulations requiring personal health information to be disclosed for the purpose of planning and management of the health system, resource allocation and creating or maintain(ing) electronic health record programs and services.”

Grant said that this amendment would fundamentally change the nature of the patient-doctor relationship and the professional duties of physicians. 

When Bill 419 was debated in the legislature, numerous MLAs sounded alarms about clause 110 of the bill, pointing to the college’s previous concerns.

“There are bad actors everywhere. The government needs to ensure that Nova Scotians have the confidence that their personal information will not be leaked out somewhere. As it is, we are left with: Oh, just trust us. Quite frankly, seeing some of the shenanigans that I have seen of late, how can we trust? It boggles the mind,” said Liberal MLA Kelly Regan.

NDP MLA Claudia Chender echoed Regan’s concerns.

“The provision is quite clear. The minister or her designate may have access to all medical records of patients — all records. Let that sink in. A conversation about fertility, about substance abuse, about gender reassignment, about anything, visible directly to the minister,” said Chender. 

Despite the objections, the government rejected efforts to amend the bill and reconsider the contentious clause.

After the bill’s passage, Grant changed his tune, saying he was assured through conversations with the premier and deputy minister that the authority would not be abused.

“When I appeared before the Law Amendments Committee, I advanced the position that the Minister’s access to personal health information should be restricted to only aggregate, de-identified data,” he said.

“The government disagreed with our proposed language, but did so only after genuine, earnest consideration. I believe the college was fully heard and our submissions were thoroughly considered.”

Grant said that the government had committed to addressing his concerns by ensuring patient confidentiality and the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship would be preserved through alternative measures.

“Specifically, the government committed to putting together a Standing Committee to inform regulations and data governance, particularly as they pertain to access and use of personal health information. The college has been invited to sit at that table,” said Grant.

In response to a request for comment from True North, a college representative said Grant was on vacation until later this month.