Management deficiencies at Northern Ireland charity led to loss of confidential papers

Contact NI, which runs a telephone counselling service called Lifeline, was criticised after documents blew out of a fire escape onto the street

An independent review has found deficiencies in the management of a Northern Ireland-based charity following the loss of papers containing confidential information about clients.

The documents blew out of a sixth-floor fire escape onto the street from the Derry offices of Contact NI, a counselling charity that runs a telephone support service called Lifeline, in July. The papers contained the names of about 20 callers and accounts of their conversations with counsellors.

Contact launched an investigation after the incident, overseen by an independent panel chaired by Oscar Donnelly, director of mental health at Northern Health and Social Care Trust, which concluded yesterday.

The report found there were deficiencies in both the management of the Derry office and its supervision by the charity’s headquarters in Belfast. There was a need for greater clarity and focus in management roles, it concluded.

Concerns were raised during the investigation about how clinical and administration staff worked together. It found there was a lack of understanding of each other’s roles and a need for more training on policies and procedures.

The charity said it has now moved to a paperless system for storing confidential information and made changes to address the report’s findings.

Fergus Cumiskey, managing director of Contact, said: “This has been a painful and difficult time for Contact staff. We made mistakes and I am extremely sorry this serious breach took place.

“We have, however, worked extremely hard in partnership with the external review panel to ensure such an incident cannot happen again.”