Hospital’s confidentiality system falls short

UNTIL retiring I worked for a company which handled sensitive data on a daily basis. Breaches of confidentiality were dealt with very severely. The reason it was taken so seriously was that failure a) could lead to quite stiff penalties and b) had in the p

Thus when telephoning clients we were required to ensure that we were speaking to our client or a person authorised by our client before identifying ourselves and the purpose of our call. In that way no unauthorised third party could draw any inference about the data subject (or client) from the telephone call.

With that in mind, suppose for a moment that you have a medical condition requiring hospital treatment. Suppose that to avoid worrying your spouse or partner you have not told him (her) about your hospital appointments, but told them instead that you are spending your afternoons in the bookies, or the massage parlour, or trainspotting or Morris dancing. No, perhaps not Morris dancing, but something that would not cause concern. You would be pretty annoyed, would you not, if the hospital blurted it out over the telephone.

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So let me tell you about a telephone call to my home last Wednesday lunchtime. I cannot recall exactly word for word how the call went but the essence is as follows;

Me: Hello. Who is speaking, please?

Caller: This is a call for Mrs Thelma Throckmorton on behalf of Rotherham and District General Hospital. If you are Mrs Throckmorton press ‘One’ on your telephone keypad. If you are not Mrs Throckmorton press ‘Two’.

I pressed ‘Two’.

Caller: If this is the correct telephone number for Mrs Thelma Throckmorton, press ‘One’, otherwise press ‘Two’.

I pressed ‘One’.

Caller: If Mrs Throckmorton as not available to take the call now, but will be available later, press ‘One’, otherwise press ‘Two’.

I pressed ‘One’.

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Caller: Thank you. We will try to contact Mrs Throckmorton later.

The call ended. The person referred to above as Mrs Thelma Throckmorton is my wife, and she told me that the hospital did contact her later and discussed an appointment with her having asked her to identify herself only by pressing ‘One’ on her telephone key pad.

If I had chosen to press ‘One’ instead of ‘Two’ I would have become privy to information to which I am not entitled, and which the hospital is legally obliged to protect. According to the law not only are the details of medical conditions protected information, but also whether or not there is information to protect. So for example, if I were to say to the hospital ‘You don't have to tell me the details but just whether you are treating my wife?’ the proper answer is ‘No comment’. And if I were to ask them to confirm that thet are not treating my wife, again the correct response is a polite ‘No comment’.

The system operated by Rotherham and District Hospital, for confirming appointments falls well short of the standards of confidentiality required by the law as I understand it and I would like someone at the hospital to explain themselves via the Advertiser, if possible.

Name and Address supplied

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