Social services’ apology after patient details faxed in error

The social services department at Bath and North East Somerset Council has been forced to apologise for a series of blunders which left a number of vulnerable people open to being targeted by thieves and conmen.

The apology comes after the Somerset Guardian was handed sheets of confidential information about people under the care of adult social services that had been sent in error to a fax machine in someone’s home.

The recipient of the erroneous faxes, who does not want to be named, said that the same thing has happened on three separate occasions in the past year and this time he refused to be silenced by the council – who had previously told him not to approach the media about their gaff.

The man, who lives in Mendip, has never had any connection with B&NES

so was surprised to find he was receiving information from the authority at all, and was even more shocked when he discovered exactly what he had been sent.

The latest information, received on August 27, gives details about a 69-year-old man who lives in Radstock and includes his social services care plan and many items of confidential information, including personal health information and a key safe number for his home address.

The problems with B&NES’ social services breaching patient confidentiality first began in the middle of last year when the man received 18 pages of confidential information via fax about people being cared for by adult social services.

When he telephoned the council to inform them what had happened he was told that the information had been sent in error.

The man told the Guardian that the council had begged him not to tell anyone about the blunder, especially the press, and was given assurances that it would not happen again and the member of staff responsible had been given a warning.

But the very next day he was shocked to find a further 18 pages of confidential information, again sent by social services, coming out of his fax machine.

He again telephoned the council, and was again given the same assurances as the previous day and begged not to reveal the blunder.

And for a while it seemed as though the problem had been solved.

But earlier this summer, confidential details from social services yet again began to arrive at his home, and when more arrived last week it was the final straw and he decided it was time to warn people that the very department that should be protecting the vulnerable people of Bath and North East Somerset was in fact putting them at risk.

He said: “I am fuming this has happened again. Social services are letting people down in their duty of care to protect confidential information. I want to know just how many other people have come home to find they know a lot more about other people than they should do, just like I did when I came home to find piles of people’s personal information just lying on my hallway floor.

“If I was told to keep quiet then I bet anyone else who has received information like this has also been told not to say anything as well.

“What really worries me is if the information fell into the wrong hands. If I was a bit dodgy I could use the information I know about people and turn them over. What would social services say then? Sorry?

“It is disgusting and not the way that old and vulnerable people should be treated.”

News of this latest social services blunder comes fresh on the heels of police reports on how between £3,000 and £5,000 is stolen each month in distraction burglaries against elderly or vulnerable people in the Bath district.

A spokesman for B&NES said: “The council has been made aware of the details of an adult social services client that were faxed to an incorrect number. This problem related to one specific fax number where a digit was entered incorrectly.

“We have visited the client involved, apologised to them, and taken steps to minimise any risks that may have arisen as a result of this error.

“We believe that correspondence was also sent on three other occasions to the incorrect number and we are currently in the process of determining which clients this may have related to. This problem only relates to a very small number of clients.

“Any other clients we discover affected by the problem will be personally contacted by our adult social services team. The council recognises it should have acted sooner to resolve the problem and is now investigating and reviewing our systems and procedures in relation to all aspects of this incident so such a case cannot happen again.

“Any communication to the fax number will be delivered by hand until the investigation is complete.”