Northern Ireland

Belfast trust apologise for 'data breach' after sending confidential report about vulnerable pensioner to wrong family

Nursing home resident James Devine is now being cared for in Orchardville House Nursing Home
Nursing home resident James Devine is now being cared for in Orchardville House Nursing Home

NORTHERN Ireland's biggest health trust has apologised for a "data breach" after sending information about care failings of a vulnerable pensioner to the wrong family.

The Belfast health trust yesterday confirmed it has reported the matter to the Information Commissioner's Office and said it is continuing to work with the daughter of 90-year-old James Devine about "ongoing concerns".

It also emerged the trust had mistakenly referred to Mr Devine being dead by mentioning their "late father" in correspondence with his family, causing further distress.

The great-grandfather from west Belfast, who suffers from dementia, went missing from the trust-run Colinvale Nursing Home in the city last November and was only discovered after someone posted an appeal on Facebook, asking if anyone knew him as he was vulnerable and seen wandering through Andersonstown.

The post was 'shared' more than 4,000 times.

Speaking to The Irish News about the impact of the ordeal, his daughter Kate McDonald said she only became aware of what had happened after being alerted on social media.

"I was tagged in a post by a woman, asking: 'is this your dad'. She had taken a photo of him in her armchair with a cup of tea after after bringing him in off the streets and keeping him warm. If it wasn't for her, a complete stranger, he would have been dead. He'd been missing for hours," Ms McDonald said.

"He was just seven weeks in the home when it happened. We rang them immediately and asked why they hadn't contacted us or if they knew if was missing. His condition severely deteriorated in the home and he lost lots of weight. We asked the trust to investigate the case.

"We will never know how traumatised he was by the incident but he became very ill afterwards."

Ms McDonald and her sister, Dolores McKenna, said the data protection breach was "one of many failings" and that the trust apology "wasn't good enough".

"They also referred to him as my 'late father' in an email yesterday, I didn't even send it on to my sister until I knew someone was with her. I didn't want her thinking something had happened," Ms McDonald added.

An adult safeguarding probe was carried out by the trust which the family say was "flawed" as they were not consulted properly.

The confidential report, seen by The Irish News, states that although the investigation team were unable to ascertain the exact time the pensioner left Colinvale, it was "apparent" there were "issues regarding the accuracy of information provided by the Nursing home staff and records, and in terms of the documentation and appropriate follow up of the incident".

A raft of recommendations were made to improve standards.

Mr Devine was admitted to hospital after he went missing and never returned to Colinvale. He was instead admitted to another trust managed home, Orchardville House, in February - where the family describe the care as "amazing".

They have not seen him for four months due to lockdown restrictions.

"He is like a different person now from last November, it was heartbreaking to watch him. I used to go in and he'd lying on the floor crying," added Ms McKenna.

"They even had a nappy on him in Colinvale which he didn't need and had on him the day he went missing. He dosen't wear one now, he has put on weight and is in good health. He had his 90th birthday in Orchardville and the staff have been brilliant.

"But we are very angry and upset by what happened and don't want another vulnerable person or family to go through this."

A trust spokesman said: "We would like to apologise to Ms McDonald for this information being inadvertently sent to the wrong recipient and have reported this to the Information Commissioner’s Office as a data breach.

"We are working closely with Ms McDonald, the care home and others to address ongoing concerns about the care her father received."

Care home resident James Devine pictured in Colinvale Nursing Home, from where he went missing last November
Care home resident James Devine pictured in Colinvale Nursing Home, from where he went missing last November