HSE 'fully to blame' for dumped confidential patient files
A PRELIMINARY probe into how confidential patient medical records were found dumped in a bin has found the source of the breach was within the health service.
The files, which relate to patients from Mullingar general hospital in Co Westmeath, were found by a woman out walking her dog, who alerted members of the Roscommon Hospital Action Committee.
The committee has been spearheading a campaign against the downgrading of emergency services at the local hospital.
The deputy data protection commissioner said last night that he was satisfied from a preliminary investigation that "the cause of the breach lies entirely within the HSE".
chairman of the HAC John McDermott brought the documents to the office of the Data Protection Commissioner in Co Laois yesterday.
Deputy commissioner Gary Davis said the circumstances of this case were "unusual" in that the files were not handed over for a week but stressed that many people simply would not know what to do with such documents.
"I am happy that the HAC acted in good faith," he said.
The files date back to last May before the controversial downgrading of Roscommon emergency department.
Mr McDermott said he was not aware of any Roscommon patients involved. The documents are understood to relate to patients from counties Longford and Westmeath.
He said he had to consult both medical professionals and a solicitor before knowing what to do with them.
Mr McDermott said the committee did not know how the files came to be in the bin. The woman who found the files immediately alerted him and another committee member, Cllr Valerie Byrne.
Members of the HAC angrily refuted suggestions that the discovery was "opportune" for their campaign. "I would be very annoyed if people took the attitude that Roscommon HAC had anything to do with this," said Cllr Byrne.
Mr McDermott said the incident highlighted the apparent lack of computer compatibility between hospitals and said this issue was serious for Roscommon people who are being referred to different hospitals in the west and midlands.
The HAC also notified gardai on Wednesday.
Calling on the Health Minister to investigate this breach, Mr McDermott said patients' files were "sacrosanct". He pointed out that there had been no attempt to shred the files or to delete any of the information, which included names, test results and written comments from doctors.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) said it takes any breach of policies dealing with the disposal of confidential documents extremely seriously.
It said very clear policies were in place for the disposal of confidential documents.
"The HSE has established an immediate investigation into claims that confidential patient information was disposed of inappropriately," a statement said.