Confidential hospital records found at Norwich supermarket

Dan GrimmerHospital records containing highly confidential information about vulnerable patients have been found outside a city supermarket by a member of the public.Dan Grimmer

Hospital records containing highly confidential information about vulnerable patients have been found outside a city supermarket by a member of the public.

Personal and clinical details of 11 elderly patients at the new rehabilitation unit at Norwich Community Hospital were on the ward handover sheets, which pass on key health needs of patients from one shift to another.

They were discovered on the ground outside Aldi, in Plumstead Road, on Monday by a shocked member of the public, who said he was 'disgusted' that such confidential information on patients had been exposed.

Details on the three sheets regarded patients who were in Alder Ward over a four-day period at the Bowthorpe Road unit and included names, ages and dates of admission; medical diagnosis and operation details and dates; medical history; nursing care received; therapy needed and details of discharge.

Some of the discharge notes state whether the patient lives alone, details of next of kin and how mobile the patient is.

All the patients are over 70 years old and some have a multitude of serious conditions, including Parkinson's Disease, asthma, arthritis, bowel problems, incontinence, emphysema and heart conditions.

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The sheets were also covered in handwritten notes, which include mobile phone numbers of contacts of some of the patients and also addresses and notes on access visits.

The incident has raised serious questions about patient confidentiality with health campaigners calling for a full investigation.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who is health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: 'This is the most sensitive and confidential of any information imaginable. The NHS has a duty of care towards patients and there absolutely cannot be any weaknesses in the system.

'This is a serious breach of confidentiality. There must be a zero tolerance on these breaches and there should be no questions over this kind of information leaving the hospital.'

Patrick Thompson from Norfolk health watchdog LINk (Local Involvement Network) said whoever was responsible for the breach needs to be 'dealt with accordingly'.

'Patient confidentiality should be followed within the strictest guidelines and any breach must be treated very seriously,' he said. 'We cannot comment on individuals, but if an investigation into this shows procedures were not in place then we will be making appropriate recommendations to the trust.'

Patient confidentiality was called into question two years ago when hospital records from the N&N were found dumped in a wheelie bin in Bowthorpe.

The N&N launched an immediate inquiry and the nurse who was responsible for the security breach was given disciplined.

The documents found this week have been handed back to NHS Norfolk, the primary care trust which runs the services at the Norwich Community Hospital. A spokesman said policy dictated the sheets should not leave the ward or unit and should be shredded at the end of each shift.

Alder Ward is a 24-bedded general rehabilitation unit, which forms part of the new �8m dedicated stroke and rehab unit that only opened earlier this month.

Sheila Adams O'Shea, managing director of NHS Norfolk community health and care (NCH&C), said the trust was extremely sorry for what happened and 'unreservedly apologised' to the 11 patients affected for any distress caused to them.

She confirmed that all of the patients involved, and their families, were being contacted directly by senior staff to ensure that they were aware of the issue, to answer their concerns and to offer any support.

She said: 'Breaches of patient confidentially are extremely serious and this very unfortunate incident has caused us great concern.

'We would like to send our most sincere apologies to the patients and families concerned and reassure them that we have immediately launched a thorough investigation into this matter.

'We will also be reviewing the processes and systems we have in place regarding the handling of patient information and reaffirming to staff their responsibility to follow these stringent procedures to ensure patient confidentiality.'

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