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The Constitutional Court set strict rules for health data provision

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

In the second half of January, the Constitutional Court issued a fairly inconspicuous but absolutely crucial decision for real practice. Specifically, the ruling Pl. ÚS 25/21, which rejected the motion of the Municipal Court in Prague to repeal Section 73(7) of Act No. 372/2011 Coll., on Health Services. This provision reads as follows: 'The Statistical Institute shall only provide information on the structure of the data on the basis of a request pursuant to the Act on Free Access to Information, if it concerns data in the National Health Information System.’

For many years, ÚZIS (the Institute of Health Information and Statistics) and the Ministry of Health have suggested that this is a special regulation to the Information Act, which generally restricts the provision of health data from the NZIS. Thus, with reference to this provision, the requests have been rejected.

What many media did not pick up at all is the reasoning of the ruling in question, where the Constitutional Court (ÚS) explained that there is no need to repeal the disputed provision, as there is already a constitutionally compliant interpretation of the statutory exceptions to the constitutionally guaranteed right of access to information. At the same time, ÚS criticized the previous practice of ÚZIS and the Ministry of Health, as well as all the arguments through which these institutions defended the fundamental limitations in the provision of health data from the NZIS. The Constitutional Court stated that there is no right of public organizations to be protected from the increase in the agenda related to the provision of information. Furthermore, ÚS sharply criticised the existing "paternalistic approach" of ÚZIS to the general public, who should supposedly be protected from the risk of misinterpretation of health data. In the opinion of the Constitutional Court, it is also unacceptable for ÚZIS to refuse to disclose health data under the Information Act and instead impose on applicants an alternative procedure of providing such data for statistical and scientific purposes under the Section 73(8) of the Health Services Act.

Thus, the Constitutional Court indirectly ordered ÚZIS and the Ministry of Health to always provide the data in the first place, and if in exceptional cases the data should be refused, such a decision must be individually justified on the basis of a proportionality test, where it is proven that there is a more important constitutionally guaranteed right. This might be the case, for example, where someone requests data on health services provided to a particular patient. Here, the individual's right to privacy will still need to take precedence.

Author: Jakub Král


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