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MLA apologises after children find sensitive patient records

Connla Young

EXCLUSIVE

SENSITIVE medical records belonging to former patients of SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell - including women who suffered miscarriages - have been found on the site of a demolished health centre in south Belfast.

One journal, which is marked 'confidential,' and carries the handwritten name 'Dr McDonnell', contains the names and addresses of several women who appear to have lost their unborn babies during the 1990s.

Another journal also contains the names and addresses of dozens of patients across south and east Belfast and gives details of their medical conditions.

The South Belfast MP and MLA last night apologised "for any anxiety or upset that may be caused to former patients".

It is understood the files, which have been seen by The Irish News, were discovered at the site of the former health centre on the Ormeau Road last weekend by children.

At one time the former health centre housed two medical surgeries while an adjacent building was home to a third surgery where the south Belfast MP worked as a GP.

The former health centre has been derelict for a number of years and just last month it was in the headlines after part of it collapsed.

SDLP election documents also littered the site yesterday, including one document headed "hit list for target card" which carries the names and address of people living in south Belfast and their political affiliation.

Two sets of documents entitled "maternity medical services" contain the names and addresses of a large number of pregnant women from the area - some of whom appear to have suffered miscarriages in the 1990s.

While one carries the handwritten name 'Dr McDonnell', the other carries the name of a second doctor.

Among the various documents discovered was a diary dating from 1990 containing the names, addresses and phone numbers of dozens of people from across south and east Belfast.

Details of complaints, some too personal to report, were also listed beside patients' names.

Dozens of files recovered are headed "patient's treatment record card" and give the names an addresses of yet more patients.

These detail amounts and type of medication, including anti-depressants.

A hardback diary, again from 1990, labelled 'night visits' lists the names and addresses of people across the south of the city.

Another log labelled 'Elderly Care Assessment' also contains the names of dozens of people and their addresses.

The former health centre, which was bought by Clanmil Housing Association from the Department of Health in April this year, has been knocked down to make way for a block flats.

Several one-tonne builder bags filled with paper documents were removed from the rear of the adjacent former surgery by a shredding firm yesterday after The Irish News arrived.

An SDLP veteran, Mr McDonnell has served as MP for south Belfast since 2005.

In a statement to The Irish News the 64-year-old confirmed that some "confidential medical and other information has become publicly available".

"It would appear that the building that my former practice shared with other health trust staff and which my former practice left in the mid-1990s was not fully cleared out by Clanmil Housing Association who are currently demolishing the site," he said.

"The medical practice, of which I was a part, had a responsibility to our patients to ensure that every piece of information was securely transferred to our new premises. I know that at the time those involved in the move believed that they had fulfilled this duty."

The former GP said he was sorry for any annoyance caused to former patients.

"It is evident now that somehow a small number of medical and personal files were not disposed of in the appropriate and secure fashion. This is a matter of the utmost seriousness and I am sincerely sorry for any anxiety or upset that may be caused to former patients.

"As soon as I was made aware I informed the practice head of the medical practice from which I retired in 2009, who moved immediately to get a confidential shredding company on site to ensure that all papers are removed and disposed of without delay.

"I have also contacted Clanmil Housing Association to inform them that the site is not secure and that this presents a health and safety risk."

A spokeswoman for Clanmil Housing Association said: "We purchased 137-141 Ormeau Road from the Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety on 11 April this year to provide 15 much-needed new social homes.

"On 11 April, control of the site was passed to our contractor. Demolition of the building that formerly occupied the site commenced in June and our contractor has informed us that at no stage in the demolition were medical records found.

"We understand that the adjoining doctor's surgery at 143 Ormeau Road, which is adjacent to our site and which is not owned by us, is currently being demolished.

"We anticipate that the trust will be investigating this matter and that information within the records found will allow them to determine their source."

* 'SERIOUS MATTER': Main, a mobile shreder destroys hundreds of sensitive documents, above and far left, found at the site of a former doctors' surgery that was demolished recently on Belfast's Ormeau Road

PICTURES: Mal McCann

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