“Those who go to a hospital as a patient or a family member are in a private and often vulnerable situation,” Centre for Justice (Centrum för rättvisa) head Clarence Crafoor said in a statement.
“It’s therefore important to safeguard protections for their personal privacy.”
On Monday, Crafoord’s organization filed a complaint with Sweden’s Parliamentary Ombudsman (Justitieombudsmannen, JO), accusing 12 of Sweden’s 21 county councils of flaunting the law by allowing reality television series to record scenes at hospitals.
The Centre of Justice reviewed the agreements struck between television production companies and county councils, which administer Sweden’s publicly-funded healthcare system. In 80 percent of cases, the organization found that the agreements violated patient secrecy laws by giving television crews access to confidential patient information before patients gave their consent to be part of the show.
“Patients or their relatives are often filmed without being told television production companies are filming at a hospital, an accident site or in an ambulance,” Crafoord wrote in an opinion article in the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.
One of the more serious violations, in Crafoord’s view, involved the treatment by Uppsala County Council of a cancer patient and his relatives.
Without asking the patient or members of his family, emergency workers talked about the man’s condition in front of television cameras.
Following a commercial break, the programme went on to show the patient suffering from acute breathing problems, while emergency workers continued to discuss the his health condition.
The man died two days later.
“It’s extremely offensive. Without any permission, they read aloud from the medical chart of a dying man in front of the camera,” Crafoord explained to the TT news agency.
“When family members later contacted the production company and the county council, they were told no mistakes had been made.”
The production company later invited the man’s family to dinner at an upscale Stockholm restaurant in an attempt to smooth things over, but the family declined the invitation.
Uppsala County Council director Kerstin Westholm refused to comment on the incident. She referred to matter to the county council’s general counsel, Jens Larsson, who expressed surprise at the Centre for Justice’s complaint.
He said the case had already been reviewed by the ombudsman, which criticized the way it was handled.
Larsson disputed, however, that Uppsala health authorities were in the wrong.
“The man gave his consent to participate. Unfortunately, we don’t have it in writing, but he gave it to us verbally,” he said.
In the complaint, the Centre for Justice names county councils in Stockholm, Uppsala, Sörmland, Östergötland, Jönköping, Blekinge, Västra Götaland, Västmanland, Jämtland, and Västerbotten, as well as regional health authorities in Skåne and Gotland.
The organization now wants the ombudsman to review 25 agreements forged between the county councils and production companies in order to determine whether or not they fail to protect sensitive patient information adequately.