NHS confidentiality a myth, says record mix-up patient

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A Pinwherry woman is calling for an overhaul of the way patient data is handled by the NHS ahead of a meeting with Ayrshire’s top medical officer.

Mary Corbey, of Alticane House, will meet with NHS Ayrshire and Arran’s chief executive, John Burns, on Friday August 24 after an unauthorised transfer of her patient records left her fearing for her life.

Mrs Corbey had thought she was up to date with her cervical screenings, having received no correspondence from GP Bruce McMaster’s surgery, then on Girvan’s Henrietta Street, for a number of years.

But when she made an appointment after presenting with cancer symptoms, she was distressed to find herself behind having been de-registered from the practice and her records sent to Manchester.

“I was very ill at the time – I had a major gynaecological problem that subsequently required surgery – so I was under physical stress, and learning that amplified the way I was feeling physically,” said Mrs Corbey.

“It occurred to me that I’d suffered a major breach of my data security and a major breach of confidentiality, and I was utterly and completely psychologically traumatised.

“It had a monumental impact on my mental health, from which I’m still suffering. It’s really undermined my confidence and my ability to live my life the way that I wanted to live my life.”

Mrs Corbey was dismayed to find the mix-up a product not of human error but what she terms a “procedural flaw in a derelict system”.

It emerged that her information had been mistakenly associated with a woman who only shares her Christian name and a similar maiden name.

While her experience sparked an investigation into the transfer procedure for patient records in 2010, Mrs Corbey says - four years since discovering the error - there has yet to be an investigation into her own experience.

Now Mrs Corbey says she is determined that something will be done to tackle what she sees as the patient confidentiality myth.

“I think that people really do need to take what they’re told with a pinch of salt and be very vigilant about what’s happening with their records,” she said.

As for her meeting with Mr Burns, she added: “I don’t have a great deal of confidence in him, but I do have confidence in my ability to overcome that.

“If he doesn’t deliver I’ve got other options,” she said, including taking her concerns to the Scottish Government, and potential legal action.

“I will be referring it back to any organisation that will carry it forward,” Mrs Corbey said.

Mr Burns commented: “Patients have a right to expect their privacy and confidentiality to be protected. NHS Ayrshire and Arran takes its responsibilities under the Data Protection Act 1998 very seriously.”

He confirmed NHSAAA has referred the issue to the Information Commissioner’s Office and is liasing with staff there and at National Services Scotland about next steps.

He said he hoped his meeting with Mrs Corbey would produce a satisfactory resolution to her complaints.