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Patients' GP notes found in used car

PUBLISHED: 14:41 30 March 2009 | UPDATED: 13:30 03 July 2010

Medical notes containing sensitive information about terminally ill patients have been found abandoned in a used car.

An inquiry has been launched into what happened to the notes which include the names and dates of birth of 37 patients, including nine deaths - and brief details of GP concerns and anticipated medical needs.

Medical notes containing sensitive information about terminally ill patients have been found abandoned in a used car.

An inquiry has been launched into what happened to the notes which include the names and dates of birth of 37 patients, including nine deaths - and brief details of GP concerns and anticipated medical needs.

Conditions listed range from breast cancer to Non Hodgkins Lymphona, leukaemia, heart failure and dementia.

They also state whether the patient is receiving palliative care from a Macmillan nurse.

And last night families of some of the patients mentioned in the notes expressed their horror at the ease with which detailed personal records can go astray.

The notes, which relate to patients in the Beccles area and date from April last year, were found in Great Yarmouth under the seat of a red S-reg Volvo car belonging to Philip Smith, a GP at the Beccles Medical Centre, which had been traded in.

The matter has now been reported to the strategic health authority as a “serious untoward incident”.

Last night Mike Stonard, chief executive of NHS Yarmouth and Waveney said: “I am extremely concerned to learn of this worrying breach of patient confidentiality by a local general practitioner.

“All 26 GP surgeries located within the boundaries of NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney have a contractual obligation to ensure they operate safe systems that protect data against loss.”

Donna Clarke, practice manager, apologised for the data breach and said an investigation was being held into how the notes went missing.

She said the papers were not full records, but were notes printed off by GPs for a bi-weekly palliative care meeting.

“I have spoken to the GP concerned who is devastated and wishes to express his most sincere regrets concerning the incident,” she said. “We consider patient confidentiality paramount, no-one would ever intentionally leave any patient identifiable information lying around. I have reported the matter to Yarmouth and Waveney primary care trust, who have instigated a serious untoward incident report to the strategic health authority in Cambridge.

“As a practice we view this extremely seriously and have already begun to take the necessary steps to strengthen our internal systems and ensure this never happens again.

“It was obviously a complete and utter mistake and it should not have been left in the car, certainly they shouldn't have got into the hands of the public.

“We plan, where possible, to contact the patients concerned, or the next of kin of those who have died, to explain what has happened and apologise.”

Steven O'Neill, whose late daughter, Melanie, was one of the patients listed, said he was worried that confidential notes could go missing so easily.

The 37-year-old Lowestoft primary school teacher died of leimyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in March last year and pupils have since helped create a special fairy garden in her memory.

Mr O'Neill said: “It's very concerning that these records are lying around. Melanie cannot come to any harm because of this, but why and how were they left behind,” he said.

“Oversights can happen, but if you are in a public position and are carrying around the records of people you should thoroughly check before you dispose of your car - that goes for anyone.

“In the last 10 days of Melanie's life the doctors were very good and couldn't do enough for her and I can't fault them.

“But if these were my own records I would be very concerned.”

The 36-year-old man who found the documents, said he discovered them while looking to buy the vehicle.

The man, who does not want to be named, said he was now planning to either shred the notes or return them to the practice.

“They were down the side of the driver's seat,” he said. “There's quite a lot of sensitive information in there. There were no other personal items, everything else was out of the car.

“The first time I saw them I thought - 'these really shouldn't be here',” he added. “I've got an elderly relative who is suffering from something quite similar, and I wouldn't want their medical notes or my medical notes to be out in the open like this.”

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