Paramedics explore legal action after drug, alcohol tests leaked

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The paramedics’ union is exploring legal action against Ambulance Victoria after the private drug and alcohol test results of potentially hundreds of employees were posted on an internal website.

More than 40 confidential spreadsheets containing the pre-employment drug test results of hundreds of graduate paramedics were posted on the Ambulance Victoria intranet, according to the Victorian Ambulance Union.

Ambulance Victoria said it would provide wellbeing support to staff whose drug and alcohol test results had been caught up in the privacy breach.Credit: Wayne Taylor

The data included the names of graduates, the dates of their tests, whether their test results were positive or negative and the types of drugs detected in their system.

The union’s secretary, Danny Hill, said the serious privacy breach was accidentally discovered by union officials on Thursday while they were searching for an Ambulance Victoria policy on the staff portal.

“We couldn’t believe what we were looking at,” he said.

“It looks clumsy, incompetent, and it’s going to be hard for people to have faith that their information will be kept confidential.”

Hill said the union would be assisting members with their legal options and a number of distressed paramedics had already been in contact to find out if they were caught up in the breach, which involved test results from May 2017 to October 2018.

Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill said a number of paramedics had already been in touch after the privacy breach was discovered.

“Members want to know what their rights are,” he said. “If they have a case we will help them with that.”

Ambulance Victoria employees are routinely tested for alcohol, illicit drugs and medication stored on ambulances such as fentanyl and morphine.

While illicit drugs are banned, Hill said there were legitimate reasons why a test might return a positive result. For instance, someone might test positive for amphetamines if they are on medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

All graduate paramedics must undergo pre-employment drug and alcohol screenings.

Hill said Ambulance Victoria immediately removed the spreadsheets after the union notified it of the breach.

He said the incident would cause “enormous distress and potential embarrassment” to employees whose private information had been published.

“They have gone to their employer for a confidential test and it has been sprawled on the intranet,” he said.

He’s also concerned about the impact it will have on employees who have drug and alcohol issues and want to be forthcoming with their employer.

The union has requested that Ambulance Victoria inform affected current and past employees of the breach, report the incident to the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner and pause alcohol and drug screenings until there are no possibilities of further data leaks.

An Ambulance Victoria spokeswoman said the organisation had removed the documents and undertaken an audit to determine who had accessed them.

“The documents were not directly accessible to anyone outside of the organisation,” she said.

“We take privacy very seriously and acknowledge the distress that this may cause. Those affected are being notified and will be provided wellbeing support.”

The Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner was contacted for comment.

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