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Department of Health email reveals 'leaks' inquiry ordered into Irish News article

The Irish News report appeared on July 24
Seanín Graham

THE Department of Health has ordered a leaks inquiry following an article in The Irish News about confidential 'alert letters' linked to a nursing home scandal.

Chief executives of health trusts have been notified by the chief nursing officer for Northern Ireland, Professor Charlotte McArdle, that the "unauthorised release" of the correspondence - relating to Dunmurry Manor care home in west Belfast - "constitutes a potential breach" of new data protection laws.

Private care home owners and managers of other NHS bodies have also received the warning.

All have been told to carry out an "investigation" into whether their organisation was the source of the media leak. A two-week deadline to report to the department by August 16 was issued.

The Irish News report, which appeared on July 24, revealed that red flag 'alert system' letters had been issued by the CNO about two registered nurses who held management roles with Runwood Homes, the firm that owns Dunmurry Manor.

The alert system is used only when significant professional concerns arise about a healthcare worker's ability to practice.

A damning report into the Dunmurry facility by the Commissioner for Older People in June found a catalogue of 'inhuman and degrading' treatment in relation to the care of vulnerable dementia patients.


Prof McArdle, who is the most senior nurse in Northern Ireland and is based at the department, wrote the 'leaks' alert after the publication of the newspaper article.

Referring to it as 'urgent matter', the CNO letters confirms that an internal probe into the leak has already taken place within the department.

It states: "The unauthorised release of the letter (to The Irish News) constitutes a potential breach of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and Data Protection for the organisation responsible.

"The department has carried out internal investigations to ensure that all information security processes and procedures have been followed correctly, to provide assurances that the breach has not occurred when the information was shared by the department with the intended recipients.

"This has been confirmed and we are taking further action to review and where necessary, strengthen our processes."

Charlotte McArdle, Chief Nursing Officer for Northern Ireland. Picture by Bill Smyth

Prof McArdle then orders separate investigations across the health service.

"Each organisation that received a copy of the alert letter needs to carry out an investigation to assure themselves that their organisation was not the source of the potential breach.

"All organisations have a responsibility to ensure full information security and assurance for their processes to ensure full compliance with GDPR and DPA 2018. This includes responsibility for ensuring that where you share information outside your organisation this is done in line with GDPR and DPA...

"You should make contact with your information governance leads internally to take forward the relevant investigations and to assure of your information security and information sharing processes, as well as those of any organisation with whom you share information."

Dunmurry Manor Care home on the outskirts of Belfast. Picture by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker

Aidan Hanna of the patient advocacy group NI Patient Voice, who has helped campaign on behalf of families of Dunmurry Manor residents, last night hit out at the inquiry and said there was a 'clear public interest' in the issue.

"I believe that the public and the media should have been informed of these alert letters in relation to former staff at Runwood and Dunmurry Manor given the significance of the case and in light of the shocking findings by the commissioner," he said.

"The public need assurances and should have been made aware of the action by the department."

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