Page last updated at 12:59 GMT, Thursday, 2 April 2009 13:59 UK

Medical records found in corridor

Boxes of records in corridor
The health board said the records should have been in sealed containers

An investigation has been launched into why crates of medical records were left lying unattended in a corridor at a Scottish hospital.

The records were discovered by a member of the public at the Southern General in Glasgow last week.

When a BBC reporter visited the hospital on Wednesday the files, which contained highly personal information, were still in the corridor.

The Information Commissioner's office has asked for a report on the matter.

The health board said an urgent inquiry was under way.

The BBC reporter monitored the corridor for 40 minutes but saw no security measures.

Photographs of the boxes of records were sent to the Scottish Labour Party's health spokesman, Cathy Jamieson, by a hospital visitor who was concerned that highly personal information seemed to be left unattended.

I am seeking an urgent explanation and reassurance that this is not happening anywhere else
Cathy Jamieson MSP
Labour's health spokesman

The boxes were stacked outside a patient records office in a corridor to which patients and the public had access.

Ms Jamieson said: "I was absolutely appalled when I first saw these pictures.

"Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon needs to take the security of confidential patient records much more seriously.

She added: "It is totally unacceptable for unsealed boxes containing private documents to be left in a corridor that is open to patients and members of the public.

"I am seeking an urgent explanation and reassurance that this is not happening anywhere else."

Privacy breach

Ken Macdonald, assistant Information Commissioner for Scotland, said his office took breaches of people's privacy very seriously.

He added: "An important principle of the Data Protection Act is that organisations which process personal information ensure records are stored and processed securely.

"It is particularly important that adequate safeguards are in place to prevent sensitive health records from falling into the wrong hands."

"We have asked for a full report from the health board before deciding what action, if any, should be taken."

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said the records should have been in sealed containers while waiting to be transferred to a new storage area and should have had a member of staff with them.

Boxes of records in corridor
The boxes were still in the corridor at the hospital on Wednesday

A statement from the health board said: "We are extremely concerned to learn of a serious situation which could have given rise to a breach in our medical records security protocols."

The board said its chief executive, Robert Calderwood, would take personal responsibility for leading the investigation and had pledged action to improve procedures if shortcomings were identified.

The statement continued: "We will take action against any member of staff who is found not to have carried out their duties diligently.

"We are also seeking to identify a more secure method of transferring these records.

"We would like to reassure our patients and the public that patient confidentiality is a key priority for this health board and its staff."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Ross Finnie described the Southern General's attitude to patient confidentiality as "cavalier" and "totally unacceptable".

He said: "Patients need to be confident that detailed personal information about their health is kept private.

The Scottish Government treats the confidentiality of patient records very seriously
Nicola Sturgeon MSP
Health Secretary

"This is not the first time this has happened. This is not the first health board to fail patients on confidentiality."

He added: "The health secretary must ask all boards to carry out an audit of their procedures and give an assurance that patients throughout Scotland can rely on the NHS to keep their records confidential."

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said she was "concerned" to learn of the incident at the Southern General.

She added: "The Scottish Government treats the confidentiality of patient records very seriously. The board are now conducting an urgent investigation.

"Medical records are the legal responsibility of NHS Boards holding them and last July we published an NHS Scotland Code of Practice for Records Management setting out the high standards we expect of boards."

"The chief executive of the NHS also wrote to all boards last year to seek their assurance about the proper conduct of their duties concerning the holding of patient records and if it is established that a member of staff has breached procedures then it would be expected that action is taken under disciplinary procedures."

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