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French presidents’ health records: promises, tradition and fact

A doctor has been suspended over viewing President Macron’s Covid vaccine status in 2021. We look at who monitors and accesses a president’s health record

President Macron’s health is monitored by a team of five doctors from the French army Pic: S_L / Obatala-photography / kurhan / Shutterstock

A French doctor has been suspended for two weeks for having consulted President Macron’s Covid vaccine pass in 2021, infringing the profession’s deontological ethics. 

Michaël Rochoy, a doctor in Outreau (Hauts-de-France), will be suspended from November 1 - 15 for consulting Mr Macron’s vaccination pass twice. 

Dr Rochoy compared himself to a whistleblower and said he wanted to raise awareness on security loopholes in the protection of people’s health data. 

“If I had to do it again, I would,” Dr Rochoy told The Connexion in a phone interview. “I am at peace with what I did [...]. I have no intention to appeal,” he added, acknowledging the illegality of his action.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr Rochoy says he asked France's state health insurance body to release a list of residents’ vaccine status so that doctors could consult it and speed up the vaccination campaign.

The data protection body Cnil refused, saying it would break medical secrecy. The doctor considered the claim to be bogus, saying he could access this data with just a first and last name and date of birth, including the data for President Macron. It is a protected database which only medical professionals can access on request to the Cnil.

He called the Elysée Palace upon succeeding, saying he wanted to raise awareness of what he saw as a possible security breach.

He also reported an administrative error with the president’s official date of vaccination. He told The Connexion he wanted to avoid conspiracy theorists using the error to suggest the president had faked vaccination. The Elysée said it had noted the points raised.

However, the investigative newspaper Médiapart later published an article clarifying points around the president’s vaccine status. 

At this point Dr Rochoy says he realised [that] the Elysée had not taken action after his notification and so took to Twitter and released the president’s vaccine pass record to prove his point about easy access.

However, the medical order of Hauts-de-France this week argued that he should not have done this as the president’s data is protected by medical secrecy and suspended him for two weeks.

Who can access the president’s medical record? 

The president’s health record should only be accessible by the Elysée Palace medical team, a body of one medical chief and four aides from the French Armed Forces Health Service.

It is led by Dr Jean-Christophe Perrochon, a former emergency doctor with 20 years of experience on many of France’s battlefields. Dr Perrochon was President François Hollande’s medical chief as well. 

The medical team is responsible for “the health organisation of the president’s official travels and escorting him on his trips,” the Elysée Palace states on its website.

The French Armed Forces Health Service has monitored French presidents’ health since 1983. No French laws require presidents to release the details of their medical check-ups. 

The presidents and their health

French people have learned to be extremely cautious about the release of any details of a president’s medical record. 

President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (1974-1981) pledged during his election campaign that he would release details but failed to do so once president.

The first data were released in 1981 under the presidency of socialist François Mitterrand in an effort of transparency but also to put an end to rumours of cancer.

In Mr Mitterrand’s case the rumours were indeed true. 

But over his 14 years of presidency and the release of his medical check-ups every three months, the first mention of a diagnosis of prostate cancer only came in 1992.
His doctor Claude Gubler revealed in his book “Le Grand Secret” (The big secret) that he had diagnosed the cancer in 1981. He was sentenced to four months of suspended jail time and the book was banned from sale for a short period of time on publication.

Former president Jacques Chirac always shielded behind medical secrecy and released medical information only sporadically. 

Both Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande released some records. Mr Sarkozy released his second on July 3, 2009 in which doctors revealed his cardiovascular exams revealed normal blood levels.

23 days later, Mr Sarkozy suffered a vasovagal syncope while jogging and was hospitalised. 

Read also

France begins rolling out free health check-ups for key age groups

How does France plan to tackle shortages to ‘more than 3,000 drugs’?

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