New Brunswickers have the right to know how many cases of C. difficile or other so-called superbugs have been found in provincial hospitals and will have that information disclosed in April, according to the province’s chief medical officer of health.
The province’s two regional health authorities both refused to disclose the number of C. difficile or MRSA numbers after a Right to Information request from CBC News.
Both the Horizon Health Network and the Vitalité Health Network initially cited privacy reasons for refusing to turn over the information to the public.
Dr. Eilish Cleary, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said in an interview on Thursday the philosophy of public health is about being open and transparent.
She said when people know what's going on, patients have better hygiene practices and hospitals are held accountable.
"I think if the numbers are high that might mean there is a need for action, but that is something the public should be aware of and maybe it will help improve standards over all," Cleary told CBC News.
Cleary is currently working with the health networks to compile the exact number of C. difficile cases. She said the number of C. difficile cases will be made public in May.
She said the information will be available online, by region and hospitals of similar sizes.
Similar statistics for infections, such as MRSA, will be made available in the future.
Moncton’s Dr. Georges-L-Dumont University Hospital underwent a major clean because of high rates of C. difficile in January.
But, the extent of the outbreak was never publicly known because the health authority refused to disclose the specific number of cases of C. difficile. A Vitalité official said the authority had "a weekly set of data" that is forwarded to the Department of Health.
CBC News requested that information, but was refused. The decision has been appealed to the province’s information commissioner.
Soon after CBC News reported the health authorities’ refusal to disclose the information, John McGarry, the president and chief executive officer of Horizon Health, said his network would start releasing infection rates on its website.
Cleary said the health authorities’ initial concerns that releasing the numbers could violate patient privacy rules are unfounded. She said the data will be released so that patient confidentiality will not be compromised.
"Maybe at this point in time the regional health authorities were erring on the side of protecting the patients, which is very important," Cleary said.
"But maybe they just were not comfortable and ready to do so. But I don't think the intent is to hide information from the public."