Northern Ireland

Security review ordered after data breaches at Co Down mental health facility

Rathlin Treatment Clinic ,Knockbracken Healthcare Park Picture by Hugh Russell.
Rathlin Treatment Clinic ,Knockbracken Healthcare Park Picture by Hugh Russell.

DATA breaches at a mental health facility which left patient files "fully exposed" have led to a security review being ordered by Belfast Trust.

A member of the public blew the whistle on serious security failures which have seen the doors of Rathlin Unit at Knockbracken Healthcare Park left "wide open" after clinical hours and confidential files unsecured on desks in open offices.

The facility lies within 275 acres of parkland near south Belfast which is easily accessible and popular with dog walkers.

According to a 2015 Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority report Rathlin was "an acute admission ward for adult male and female patients" providing "single room accommodation for up to 24 patients".

It was still being used for inpatients in 2019, but during the pandemic has been operating as an out-patient facility.

A second unit known as `Pharmacy', which contains old patient files, has also been seen with open doors and windows at night by a separate dog walker, who says she has warned the trust about it "on multiple occasions".

It is not clear if that building is still used as a dispensary.

The whistleblower, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: "If they were my relatives I would be outraged."

She told The Irish News that she reported the lack of security "umpteen times" and last week entered the building to search for her dog after it ran inside during a walk.

"Every door except the front door was wide open," she said.

"My dog thought it was an invitation and tore in and ran down the corridor before I knew it.

"There were no alarms and all this expensive equipment and computers just sitting there with the lights all on."

She said she closed the doors herself and alerted a nurse who she met on the grounds who immediately made a call to ask for someone to "come and lock the doors".

"I was still walking in the area almost an hour later. No one showed up," she said.

"The conclusion I have come to is that `no one cares' in the site."

The whistleblower wrote a letter to the minister which a Department of Health spokesman said it had been received and the Trust alerted.

"As is the case with any operational matter it has been referred to the appropriate Trust (in this case Belfast Trust) for a response."

A Trust spokesman said a review of security is under way, but insisted there has been no interference with any patient data.

"Staff are satisfied that no items in the building have been disturbed or removed," he added.

"This review includes physical security measures such as locks on doors and windows, as well as reminding staff of their responsibility for securing the premises when all personnel have left.

"Visitors who use Knockbracken for leisure activities such as dog walking, are reminded to use only public paths for their own safety.

"They should not enter any building without consent, in accordance with Belfast Trust's Covid-19 infection control protocols."