Alasdair McDonnell’s patients’ sensitive medical files found in rubble of his surgery

Alasdair McDonnell MP
Alasdair McDonnell MP

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has apologised after highly sensitive medical documents were found in rubble at his former GP surgery.

The Irish News reported that several one-tonne builder bags filled with paper documents were removed from the area by a shredding firm after a journalist arrived at the scene.

Among the documents were records of former patients of the former GP and South Belfast MLA , including details of women who had miscarriages during the 1990s.

There was also a document which listed how south Belfast residents were believed to have voted.

In a statement to the paper, Dr McDonnell said: “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 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.”

DUP MLA Jim Wells said that he was “horrified” at the revelation.

The vice chairman of Stormont’s health committee said: “Regardless of who the GP is or who manages the practice, the fact that very detailed medical information belonging to patients has been found on a building site is horrific.

“ Some of the notes related to a patient who sadly had a miscarriage....people expect the health service to treat their data in a professional manner. Identity theft is rife throughout the world and a data breach like this would be a crime ring’s dream.”

Mr Wells raised particular concerns about the fact that sensitive electoral material had been found at the medical site and called on Dr McDonnell to refer himself to the Assembly’s Commissioner for Standards.

“This raises a number of key questions such as why would a medical facility, paid for by the health service, have election materials in it? Was this facility used as some kind of election headquarters and if so was it declared in the electoral expenses?”