Hundreds of patient files found in public toilet

Hundreds of patient files found in public toiletPatient files dumped at the public dumping site. (File Photo)

Hundreds of patient files full of sensitive personal information were recently discovered in the men’s toilet of one of Tshwane’s clinics.

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OurHealth discovered stacks of patient files unsecured in the clinic's toilet.
OurHealth discovered stacks of patient files unsecured in the clinic’s toilet. The Department of Health says that it is currently negotiating more space for files, consultations at the facility.

The Soshanguve Block X Clinic operates out of a City of Tshwane Customer Care Centre that was previously a community hall. OurHealth recently visited the clinic to survey waiting times and discovered stacks of unsecured patient files being stored in the men’s toilet.

“You advise me what to do with these files,” snapped one of the staff when asked why patient files were being improperly stored. “They are dormant files that we sorted out of our fully packed store room.”

“There is nothing we can do to solve the situation because we do not have space,” said a health worker whose name is known to OurHealth but has been withheld to protect him from victimisation.

Patients were horrified at the finding.

“That means that the clinic does not respect our privacy,” said cancer patient Sakkie Marerwa, who lingered outside the clinic’s fully packed reception area. A shortage of space can also be seen in the clinic’s cramped waiting rooms.

“Even though they are dormant files, the fact is that our health information is in there,” Marerwa said. “People could take (that information) to social media and expose our confidential data.”

No feedback regarding complaints, say patients

[quote float=”right”] “People could take (that information) to social media and expose our confidential data”

Patients also complained that there was no response to patient feedback submitted through the clinic’s complaint box.

“There is a suggestion and complaints box that we submit (complaints to) but there is no feedback,” said Dipolelo Swati. “There is no shade at the clinic so we stand outside during rain, cold or sun.”

A clinic committee member who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the body had tried to address the clinic’s issues with leaders at the sub-district, district and provincial health offices for the past three years. Pleas for park homes for extra consulting space and to accommodate patient files securely “fell on deaf ears”.

The committee was also allegedly told that there was no budget for infrastructure development for the clinic in the 2014/15 financial year.

According to Gauteng Department of Health Head of Communications Prince Hamnca, the department has lodged preliminary investigations into the matter. He added that the department was currently in negotiations with local government to use additional rooms at the customer care centre to securely store the files.

“We also are aiming to convert the existing pharmacy into additional filing room and the existing filing room will be turned into pharmacy dispensary and store,” Hamnca told OurHealth. “The existing waiting area will be partitioned and turned into additional consulting rooms.”

An edited version of this story first appeared in the 11 September edition of the Pretoria News.