Cape Town – The health department is “unlawfully” trying to access people’s private medical information through their medical schemes, the DA claimed on Monday.Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi had asked the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS) to help the department set up a beneficiary registry of citizens on medical aid, DA MPs told reporters at Parliament.In a letter Motsoaledi sent to the CMS in July 2016, he asked "all medical schemes, administrators and regulated private health care funding entities to furnish the CMS with regular updated electronic records pertaining to basic personal, demographic (including domicile) details of all members and their beneficiaries".The purpose of the exercise was to create a unified registry of medically-funded patients who required or used public health services.Motsoaledi expressly stated in his letter that the CMS should not collect information about citizens' personal medical history.DA shadow minister of health Dr Wilmot James however described the minister's request as outrageous."To collect very private, sensitive information, to which the government has no right, is not only unconstitutional, but also in flagrant violation of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI)," he said."Additionally, it poses a real security risk to individual citizens."'Letter ignores the law'James said Motsoaledi’s desire to set up a registry or database was valid, but the method inappropriate. He said he was not legally entitled to the information and did not need it in the suggested format to answer his questions.DA shadow minister of justice, Glynnis Breytenbach, said the POPI Act specified the steps required to access private information, which Motsoaledi seemed to have ignored in his letter.The act was specific about what could be accessed, how long it could be kept for, and what it could be used for."The correspondence from the minister does not cover this in any adequate fashion or form. It's as if no thought has been given to the existence of POPI and the rights of individuals. No comfort has been given to the medical aid schemes," she said.James said the party would lodge a complaint with the Information Regulator against the CMS in terms of the POPI Act.Objective 'NOT private information'Ministry spokesperson Joe Maila told News24 on Monday that the department "noted with concern" the DA's claims.Parliament had signed off on the plans for the past three years and no MP had ever raised an objection.He said the registry's purpose was not to collect personal or private information, but to ensure the public sector could identify private medical scheme members when their scheme needed to be billed for services rendered in the public sector."A number of medical schemes have contracts with the public sector for their members to access services. However, their members fail to identify themselves and/or provide accurate information regarding their scheme so that their scheme can be billed."This meant patients received healthcare for free, but the public sector carried the cost.The information was critical for planning, both for the department and the CMS, so they could see which options members were choosing, the disease burden in the option, age profile, geographic distribution, etc.“The objective here is to obtain summary information, NOT individual personal or private information.”'They have a lot to hide'Maila conceded that certain medical aid schemes were uncomfortable sharing the information with the CMS and the department."They have a lot to hide. They go around mobilising proxies to fight this battle for them. We are the last to act unethically in respect to patient confidentiality because we are the custodians of that."Council of Medical Schemes spokesperson Elsabe Conradie said the DA's statement was not factually correct.The registry had a legal basis in section 42 of the Medical Schemes Act and was in line with department plans.According to a CMS presentation, the POPI Act allows for the gathering of information under certain circumstances, if doing so is in the public interest.The process would require citizens to give their consent before their respective medical aids transfer their information. The presentation does not explain how the registry would be in the public interest.Conradie had not responded to News24’s question of public interest at the time of publication.