The NSW Health Minister has apologised to patients of a former aged facility south of Sydney whose paper medical records containing intimate details were left in a now-derelict building, in what is one of the largest privacy breaches of its kind in Australia.
Uncovered by a triple j Hack and ABC News investigation, the records were discovered strewn throughout rooms in the decommissioned Garrawarra Centre for Aged Care in Helensburgh.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has instructed his department to investigate.
"As a result of the finding of medical records deposited during the 16 years of Labor in what has proved to be inadequate secured premises, I have directed the Ministry of Health to instigate an audit of archived medical records,” Hazzard told the ABC.
"To those people whose medical records were put in such storage arrangements in the early 2000s, I express my sincere apologies and can assure them and their families I will get NSW Health to do whatever I can to rectify the situation."
The stunning privacy breach was discovered in an unsecured building regularly accessed by the public but in a statement a NSW Health spokesperson said the derelict facility had been accessed illegally.
The dementia-specific Garrawarra Centre now operates in nearby Waterfall.
"If it is found that any file notes have been inappropriately stored, the Centre will be contacting individuals, or their families to apologise," the statement said.
The paper records contain the private information of more than 400 patients who were resident in the aged care facility between 1992 to 2002 and include details on pain levels, incontinence and falls, as well as GP and hospital documents.
Most if not all of the patients are presumed to have died, but for remaining family members the discovery of the discarded patient information could cause distress.
South East Sydney Local Health District medical executive director Dr James Mackie said there would be an urgent response to determine whose confidential details had been left behind in the abandoned building.
"We understand this might be a distressing event for some; however, we want to reassure people that any of the material that was stolen from these premises relates to historic material and non-active patient files," Mackie told the ABC.
"We need to be able to identify exactly what files are there and what files are in possession of the ABC, and certainly if patients' files have been exposed we would contact anyone who has been so affected.”
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