Peter Faulkner. Photo: ANDREW PERRYMAN

 

HEALTH records containing the private medical information of 1850 patients have been wrongfully destroyed.

Bendigo Health chief executive Peter Faulkner has called in two state government advisory bodies to oversee the process of informing patients, offering clinical assessments to help reconstruct histories, and correcting procedures around information
disposal.

Mr Faulkner said the accidental shredding of 3150 records, 1300 of which were the records of deceased patients, was potentially in contravention of the Health Records Act and could result in a fine.

Before contacting affected patients, he said Bendigo Health had prioritised those who were most recently treated by the organisation and were therefore more likely to be impacted by the loss of part of their medical history.

About 150 patients who have used Bendigo Health services in the past decade will be contacted first, initially by phone but then by other means if contact details have changed.

Bendigo Health has also set up a 1800 number for patients who may be worried they have been affected.

Mr Faulkner said the paper records would have included written notes by nursing staff including observations, the duplication of documents and letters or printed correspondence. But he said the documents were only a partial record of patients, that other

records for the same patient still existed on digital files and those destroyed were only a fraction of the total 300,000 records the hospital kept.

“Human error was to blame for the wrongful destruction,” Mr Faulkner said.

None of the records pertained to psychiatric diagnosis or treatment, and none could be accessed because the information they contained was lost.

“We identified that in a routine process of destruction that a number were destroyed in error.

Victorian health services are guided by strict legislation governing what records can be destroyed and when.

Mr Faulkner said the service had identified records that were older than the 30 years maximum limit.

The limit is 12 years for records of people who have died.

“Patient identifiers were generated, that generated the identification of locations of those files and the human error occurred when other files associated with those, so those in the same location, were destroyed when they shouldn’t have been,” he said.

“There was not an adequate check between the two lists (the records identified appropriately and the records selected inappropriately) and that was where the error occurred.”

The records were destroyed late last year but Bendigo Health only discovered the error in the past two weeks when staff couldn’t find a file that a patient had requested.

Patients have the legal right to see their own medical records.

“We contacted the Public Records Office and advised them and they have nominated someone to work with us to investigate fully what has occurred and to ensure any future processes are sound,” Mr Faulkner said.

“We have been in discussion with Safer Care Victoria about this and effectively it is considered very low risk clinically.

“For that reason we are really concerned that we provide as much reassurance to the community as possible.”

Mr Faulkner said patients were always clinically assessed by how they presented on the day, but records were a part of the overall medical story.

He conceded there may be patients concerned about the partial loss of their records.

“For some people there will be some anxiety, there is no doubt, and we are very sorry for the error and we will do everything we can to assure people including undertaking a clinical assessment of individuals if that is what they wish to reconstitute their profile,” he said.

People wishing to check about their records can ring the helpline on 1800 959 400.

– Sharon Kemp