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Thursday, 8th November 2018

Nobody held to account for hospital records found beside the Boyne

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Deputy Fergus O'Dowd.

“It is unacceptable, appalling and disgraceful” says Deputy O’Dowd

When private medical records from the A&E Department of Beaumont Hospital were found on the banks of the River Boyne at Baltray recently you would have thought that all hell would have broken loose until someone was brought to book. Well you’d be wrong, nobody has been held to account.

Local TD Fergus O’Dowd raised the issue in the Dail yesterday during a debate on the second stage of the Data Sharing and Governance Bill 2018.

He told the Dáil that the medical records of 12 patients of the Beaumont were found on a public road beside the River Boyne near Baltray, some 30 miles or so from the hospital.

On 18 October O’Dowd submitted a parliamentary question seeking details of how the data could have ended up on the side of a road and whether the Minister would investigate the data breach.

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“On 1 November, I submitted another question as more medical data relating to personal health information of patients was found” O’Dowd said.

In his second question O’Dowd asked for an outline of the results of an inquiry into the reasons significant personal and medical data was found for the second time in a few weeks at the same place.

“It was an unacceptable breach of privacy and data protection laws and the hospital must be held accountable for this second very serious breach. I do not know if it is the same hospital. We want absolute assurance that this will not happen again” he said.

In a response to Deputy O’Dowd’s queries the chief executive of Beaumont Hospital, Ian Carter, admitted that a recent incident occurred whereby personal health information on patients was found “outside Beaumont Hospital”.

“It was found 30 miles away from the hospital, which is a bit different from it being blown out the window or falling out of a waste bin” O’Dowd retorted.

“Mr. Carter indicates that the source of the information was identified as an accident and emergency department summary clinical handover report used by nursing and medical staff during shift changes.

“As a result of the incident, Mr. Carter indicates that all accident and emergency department staff have been directed to use "confidential" bins provided for such reports prior to leaving the hospital.

“There we have it! Data protection (at the Beaumont) amounts to putting the data into a confidential bin!

“How can a bin be confidential and the data relating to very serious medical histories of patients who may be extremely ill end up 30 miles away?” he asked. “That is entirely and absolutely unacceptable.”

“It is unacceptable, appalling and disgraceful.”

“I rang the gentleman who signed this letter and told (him) I was not happy with the reply, which is insulting and disgraceful. I said that it did not answer the question. I asked if a person had been sent to the site or if the incident had been reported to the Garda or the Data Protection Commissioner.

“I am still awaiting a reply, despite the fact that I stated my intention to raise the matter during this debate. This is a direct message to Mr. Ian Carter and Beaumont Hospital. I want to know the facts and the public is entitled to that knowledge.

“I am challenging the hospital here. The people responsible for this matter are unaccountable and they are acting in a very high-handed manner. What they are doing is shameful and disgraceful.

“If data in the private sector were allowed to fall into the public domain, there would be a fine or sanctions. The HSE is not held accountable, however, and certainly not through parliamentary questions. It will face no fine.

“This is a major problem because authorities such as those at Beaumont Hospital have very sensitive personal records but they can allow them, through weak and appalling management of the data, to be found 30 miles away.”

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