Hospital documents were left on Canning St on Thursday evening.
Hospital documents were left on Canning St on Thursday evening. Okjdocuments

Patient records in the gutter

QUEENSLAND Health is investigating how a number of highly sensitive medical documents were left lying in a Rockhampton street on Thursday evening.

The Morning Bulletin became aware of the security breach after a Rockhampton resident contacted the paper with concerns the documents had not been recovered.

The resident, who did not wish to be named, claimed one of the documents initially returned to hospital staff contained the names and contact details of women who had given birth at the health facility and were tagged due to concerns their child may be at risk of neglect.

"What I did give (the hospital staff) back was a list of girls who had babies under child protection," the resident claimed.

The resident was shocked such details were left for public viewing.

"There's peoples' names in there," they said.

The resident claimed after finding the documents they immediately called the Rockhampton Hospital reception who sent out a security officer to retrieve the papers they had collected.

The resident said they had only retrieved some of the papers and many still remained clearly visible lying in the public street. They said despite the obvious sensitive nature of some of the documents the hospital security officer was indifferent to the seriousness of the security breach.

The resident claimed the officer told them it wasn't his job to retrieve the documents and if they wanted to collect them then they should pick them up.

At the time this story went to print it was still unclear how long the documents were open to public viewing, but a witness claimed that on Thursday evening they saw a number of people walk past and stop to read some of the unsecured paperwork.

The Morning Bulletin was told of the situation just before 5pm Thursday evening, and at almost 6pm documents still lay in the street.

A Bulletin reporter collected and returned the remaining documents to staff at Rockhampton Hospital where he was informed staff were already aware of the situation.

However, despite knowing of the missing paperwork and clearly sensitive nature of information contained in the recovered files, Rockhampton Hospital appeared to have not previously attempted to retrieve or account for the missing documents.

QLD Health staff initially played down the security breach and a series of alleged procedural failures which left the documents exposed to public viewing.

On Thursday evening, even after a number of the missing documents had now been in the possession of hospital staff for more than two and a half hours, chief operations officer of Central Queensland Health Service District Rod Boddice was still under the impression that all lost documents were of a personal or low security nature and did not contain sensitive medical information.

Mr Boddice claimed the documents contained a housing lease, some notes of hospital procedure and a series of notes taken at a staff meeting.

He said the documents were not patient records and therefore their loss was not a high-level security breach. But yesterday morning Mr Boddice conceded at least one of the lost documents did contain the details and names of young mothers registered under an alert system aimed to help staff identify children which could be at risk from neglect but not necessarily in direct and immediate danger. When asked if this was in fact very sensitive information, Mr Boddice conceded simply answering "yes".

Yesterday morning Mr Boddice assured all documents were accounted for and a security team had been sent out late Thursday night and again Friday morning to ensure all documents had been retrieved. However, despite repeated requests Qld Health did not address our questions over the series of failures which led to the documents being left unsecured for an extended period of time. Mr Boddice said his current concern was how an individual came to lose these documents and to ensure individual staff were reminded about document security. He failed to address questions over the lack of action from multiple QLD Health staff who had been made aware of the security breach early on Thursday evening.

He said Qld Health was now investigating the incident.

"Rockhampton Hospital takes the confidentiality of patient information very seriously. All patients' medical charts are kept in a very secure environment. Staff members take notes at meetings and those may include patient information. Every effort is made to remind staff that those notes need to be secured to maintain patient confidentiality as much as a patient's medical records," the statement said.

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