Rates of hospital infection continue to be kept secret

November 8, 2017

Photo: Flickr/Michal Janček

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) has sued the Ministry of Human Resources over the latter’s refusal to publicize requested statistics on rates of infections contracted in specific hospitals.

More people die due to infections in hospitals than in car accidents in Hungary, claims TASZ, but current and future patients cannot know which hospital wards are more effective when it comes to fighting infection.

The government published 2016 data on hospital infection rates about twenty days later than the official September 1 deadline for the publication. As the statistics revealed, the situation was worse in 2016 than in 2015, which was worse than 2014. The hospital infection situation is permanently deteriorating.

According to index.hu, 4,830 multi-resistant infections were reported in 2016.  Of these, 1,481 infected patients died, 174 partly or entirely because of infection. The numbers per hospital were not shared with the public.

The National Public Health and Medical Officer Service (ÁNTSZ) lost its independence in March, after which several different institutions took over its former responsibilities, including the Ministry of Human Resources. Previously, ÁNTSZ refused to release the figures despite acknowledging that detailed data on hospital infections constitute public data.

TASZ had consistently disagreed in recent years with the ÁNTSZ annual report, and has been unable to effect any change to the practice of publishing vague, imprecise statistics that do not reflect which hospitals reported how many cases of infection. In recent years, the NGO has filed public information requests, turned to the ombudsman, debated ÁNTSZ on TV and highlighted the importance of a missing legal procedure for reimbursing victims.

ÁNTSZ’s legal reasoning for not releasing more detailed data states that such data are used in informing policy decisions and thus should be kept secret. This means that, according to the ministry, the data would influence decisions that should be neutral. On the other hand, TASZ claims that precedents from Hungary’s highest court, the Curia, have already proven that public data can only be kept secret for such reasons if there is a concrete decision that can only be made without the knowledge of the data. The NGO hopes that the ministry will have a hard time persuading the court that this pertains to hospital infection rates.