By Francesca Ryan

HEALTH and Social Care NI has come under fire after a package full of confidential patient files was found lying in the middle of a West Belfast road.

The bundle, containing the personal notes of a number of different patients, was found lying on the Stewartstown Road on Tuesday afternoon. A taxi driver who made the discovery handed the notes in to the Andersonstown News office. We didn’t open the files, but it was immediately obvious that they are all current and active.

“I was driving towards Andersonstown near Hillhead when I noticed the package on the road and when I got out and looked I couldn’t believe it was medical information,” he said. “It’s a disgrace that someone could be so careless with such important information, it was literally lying in the middle of the road.”

The package was bound for a medical practice in the city, which we have decided not to name. We understand it was being delivered by a private courier service. A sticker on the package indicated that if the package was found it should be returned to ‘Health and Social Care in NI’s Business Services Organisation’. We contacted BSO on receipt of the files and a representative arrived at our office on Wednesday morning and took possession of them.

West Belfast MP Paul Maskey says an investigation must take place into just how the confidentiality breach occurred.

“People expect their medical treatment to be confidential and they certainly don’t expect their medical notes to end up on the side of the road,” he said. “Whoever was transporting this has been less than professional as these documents should have been 100 per cent secure. It shouldn’t be possible that they are found lying on the side of the road.

“There needs to be an investigation into how this happened and measures need to be taken to make sure it never happens again, this is too important an issue not to be addressed. I also think apologies need to go to the patients named.”

A BSO spokesperson told us: “The Business Services Organisation is aware of the discovery of a package which contained confidential patient notes. The BSO takes great care in handling such documents and has very strict protocols in place to deal with the protection of patient information, including the use of a dedicated courier service. It is regrettable this package has not been dealt with in accordance with those procedures.

“The Information Commissioner’s Office will be informed as a matter of course and further investigations are under way with the service provider to establish how this happened and how it can be prevented in the future. We would like to thank the person who found this package and ensured it was returned in a safe and responsible manner.”

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