Friday, 11 June 2010


I had a message left with my secretary from an orthopaedic ward. It was about a post op elderly patient who'd fractured her hip and was profoundly confused, apparently throwing hot tea and drinks at people, pulling out lines and battering the staff.

I 'phoned up the ward, who know me well, and spoke with a staff nurse, saying I'd received some info about a patient causing havoc and could I make arrangements to review her that afternoon. I gave the nurse the patient's name (which was quite common) and asked for identification details (date of birth, NHS number) so I could see if we'd any past details from CMHT, GP, memory therapy or memory clinic contacts.

The nurse said she couldn't give me that information.

"So you're referring a patient to me, but you won't tell me who they are?!"

"Sorry, it's the policy . . . seems a bit silly, doesn't it?"

You couldn't make it up.


Bippidee said...

Wow, that is spectacularly ridiculous! Out of interest how were you ever supposed to find out who the patient actually was, in terms of matching them with their records etc? I always assumed that the confidentiality thing stopped before it reached the point where professionals would be unable to find out vital information on their patient, but seemingly not... You are right, you really couldn't make it up!

The Girl said...

Wow, that is terrible.

Back when I worked in medical imaging, they weren't allowed to tell us whether or not a patient we were about to deal with was an infectious risk (e.g. MRSA, TB), so the wardies had code where they would hang a rubber glove on the drip-pole of the patient's chair/bed if they were contract/respiratory precautions. I would often ask the patient what they had, and they would be surprised that I didn't know.

The people who come up with these ideas about "confidentiality" must be incredibly out of contact with reality.

Dr Grumble said...

Will they tell you when you get there?

We all have this sort of nonsense. Some years ago I took a rare visit to our private ward. They used to have a white board showing which room each patient was in. The board was blank so finding the patient I had come to see was a challenge. One of the patients, an important personage, did not want his name on view. The staff then decided the same privacy should be applied to all patients. Then they decided that NHS patients should be no different so now it is a constant battle to find the patients they want you to see. It is stark staring bonkers and not in the patients' interests because it wastes time.

In the past no ordinary patient seemed to mind having their name up. In any case the way around this would be to check with each patient if they mind when they are admitted.

Needless to say this was introduced with no discussion with front line doctors who regularly have to go from ward to ward to see referrals.

pj said...

It seems pretty likely this is just another example of staff being over zealous in their interpretation of rules. If any old person rings uo a ward then of course they shouldn't give out information - but if you can prove who you are or provide a recognised phone number or fax then only an idiot will refuse to provide the information. If that all fails contact a doctor who will naturally have no concept of data protection and disclose the whole lot.

The Shrink said...

It's certainly over zealous interpretation of rules. Being piqued, I looked into this through management (who kindly informed me about our Data Controller). We've a Service Level Agreement with the acute Trust so although we're both NHS Foundation Trusts we're able to share information freely, within the Data Protection Act framework, so this really was nonsense.

Dr Grumble, as I'm sure you also experience, on getting to the ward you can access anything you fancy. Often I tuen up to a ward, nobody on shift knows or recognises me, nobody asks me who I am, but I simply walk over to a notes trolly, pull out medical notes and read through what I want, go and see patients, look at charts and Rx cards, without any challenge or scrutiny at all.

It's perverse that sharing information the ward wants/needs to share is difficult, yet when on the ward the whole "information governance" thing is so shoddy.

So it goes.

Dr Grumble said...

Quite so, Shrink. Just walk in and look confident and you can read what you like. But please don't tell them or our work will stop altogether.