Hong Kong patient identity bracelets sent to landfill by mistake

A total of 114 bracelets from Ruttonjee and Tang Shiu Kin hospitals were treated as regular rubbish instead of confidential waste

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 October, 2016, 8:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 October, 2016, 8:03am

Two hospitals in Wan Chai might have leaked personal data of 114 discharged patients after sending their identification bracelets to a landfill instead of following proper procedures in handling confidential waste.

A patient concern group said the incident showed hospital staff members were lax in handling confidential information and did not follow set procedures. The group worried that there might be more serious leaks in future if staff attitudes did not change.

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A spokesman for Ruttonjee and Tang Shiu Kin hospitals, which are managed as a single hospital by the same management, announced on Friday that on October 5 an operating assistant responsible for cleaning services transferred the patients’ identification bracelets containing their name, Hong Kong ID card number, age and gender, which had been temporarily stored in a designated confidential waste collection container, to a regular black rubbish bag.

The black bagswere treated as domestic waste and sent to a landfill on the same day, the spokesman said, adding that the hospitals could not recover the bracelets.

Hospital management reported the case to the Hospital Authority two days later, as well as to the Privacy Commissioner.

“[The hospital] is very concerned about the incident,” the spokesman said. “[The hospital] has started to contact the affected patients to explain the incident and express its sincere apologies.”

Under the procedures, identification bracelets are placed in a designated collection container in different wards and then collected by an appointed confidential waste contractor at regular intervals.

Alex Lam Chi-yau, chairman of Hong Kong Patients’ Voices and former vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance of Patients’ Organisations, said although the case was relatively less serious and the chances of the information being leaked were low, it showed hospital staff could not follow set procedures, which would put the hospitals at risk of encountering more serious blunders.

“We are quite disappointed at the hospitals’ operation,” said Lam. “This time the confidential information might have ended up in a landfill, but next time the information might end up in the wrong hands.”

Lam called on hospital management to create a more rigorous system to ensure staff members stuck to procedures.

The hospital spokesman said management had taken immediate measures to prevent similar incidents from happening again, including reminding all staff of the importance of following proper procedures on confidential waste handling, issuing a notice on the collection of confidential waste to all hospital units and placing warning labels on confidential waste containers.