Sunday, December 16, 2012

UK Hospital Falls Prey To Australian DJs' Hoax Call

Secured data. Is it?
A lot of praise has been poured for the nurse who committed suicide days after a prank call in her work place. It seems implied that she took her life as a direct consequence of shame or other such remorse due to the humiliation from that phone call. This, indeed, is a pity.

The sadness of the news of the young woman's suicide is one that is very sensitive and leaves a young family in mourning especially at such a time of festivity when, even non-celebrants are joined together due to holidays and spend time together.

The issue that will rise from this article may therefore be controversial based on the arguement that someone and a family is negatively affected; however, the crux of the matter is that there are fundamental issues that might be overlooked and swept under the carpet in this time of mourning and as such, forever.

Loophole in Hospital's training and education:
This hoax call by the Australian DJs, although very foolish, raises so many questions at the very heart of a service that matters and directly affects the majority of us. In fact, the said hoax call exposed a mighty gulf of flaws within the training approach which probably is too eurocentric and igrnorant of cultural differences. But how does that come into this?

The Hospital should ensure that staff induction are tailored to the understanding of the personnel taking into consideration how different concepts play out in relation to the staff's personal background and heritage.

As a professional patients' representative, I encounter very often, cases of migrants from Africa and Asia insisting they do not want to be attended to by a medical professional from their own community. In supporting them and from personal experience, I have learnt and know that this is because 'confidentiality' does not really exists in most these communities. That being the case, it is no surprise that some medical professional of African and Asian origin are suspected by their own people to use their health condition as a communal gossip.

The reason for the above is; in most of these communities and language, there is only two terms; secret and open, whereas in English, 'confidentality' comes almost in the middle.

Complacency of Management 
Following the nurse's suicide, King Edward VII hospital confirmed that it has not initiated any disciplinary process and investigation against the two nurses. This is worrying. The two staff behaved unprofessionally. So to establish why they would give out a patient's confidential health status is only sensible so that measures can be taken to mitigate a repeat in the future - no matter when that future would be. It does mean that the hospital does not take such a breach of confidentiality serious and are not bothered by the slightest means how their staff treats sensitive data that are handed to them in trust by patients.

Where such a mishandling of a personal record happened, the establishment, in this case, the hospital is obliged to look into the matter and ensure that it does not repeat. It necessarily do not need to punish or discipline the staff especially in a case like this one where the staff involved is said to be amazing in the discharge of their duty until this event.Yet, investigating the incident will help make the necessary amends once it is understood why it happened and staff members learn that such mistakes arent acceptable or tolerated.

Vulnerability of patients' record
Secondly, the hoax call also goes further to expose the lack of professionalism and a possible complacency practiced in regard to patients record by the very people that should assure us. That a nurse of 4 years standing could pass or respond to a call requesting the details of a patient's health should be rather embarrassing for the employer and shocking to any patient.

Regardless of who the patient is, any patient within and in a hospital is entitled to [believe and] feel secure that their personal records and state of health are safeguarded by the people and institution it is trusted to do so.

African or other ethnic minority women still face harsh scenario in the home and community for health conditions that they found themselves, including HIV, fertility problem and other such serious and complicated conditions. Any member of their community or family could call the hospital and obtain such information about them if it is that easy in this hospital.

Opportunity for unsolicited marketing
The hoax call and the easy manner in which it seemed to have been responded to and fed shows how easy marketing companies find it obtaining patients' details; probably not by single phone calls like this one. But this could confirm that records are easily obtainable if you 'play your cards' well. Something that goes a long way to confirm the worst fear we all in Britain have had all these years. Not only do we wonder why these people target us, but we are miffed at their cleverness in identifying and knowing exactly about the condition we have been to the hospital recently for; and in some cases, seems to suggest our individual concerns.

It is therefore not surprising how some of these data are easily obtainable if nurses fall prey to something so straight-forward and over the phone for that matter.

Diverse employment but not diverse training
The health and social care sector in the UK is known to be among the highest employers and as such, have a high number of diversity in its workforce. However, what is obvious is how lax trainings has been in taking into consideration, the different cultural understanding of these diversity during orientation. This poses a potential risk to how service users' data are handled.

As a former Health Diversity Officer with NHS Sutton & Merton PCT, I spent time pointing out to GP practices and community nurses how important it is that their dealings with patients reflect an understanding of cultural background. This helped many of these medical professional become aware and saw their relationship with patients improve. The same applies to induction trainings that do not take into consideration the extent of understanding of the details by the workers.

Unfounded fear of authority
Staff should have an unwavering assurance of support from employers on issues involving higher powers. The only excuses that could be suspected to make a medical professional with years of experience divulge information to anyone over the phone who is not their line manager could only be linked to the fear of power; i.e, in this case, 'its the Queen, you cant deny her'.

A really professional staff would have kindly informed 'Her Majesty' that it is not possible to give her any information about the patient over the phone as this is not the practice. The professional staff would also quickly add that such is for the protection of the patient and her/his family since they are confidential matter.

With a kind, respectful and professional explanation, 'Her Majesty' would have accepted, even if difficult, and hang up. Or may be, call the nurses' bluff and demand to speak to the Chief Exec. However, Her Majesty would most likely have been impressed at such assurance.

While working in a large chain restaurant as a supervisor during my student years, a departmental director once ordered me on the phone during a busy Saturday shift to give a free food worth almost £100 to a celebrity based on a scheme which this celebrity should have an activated card for. But being that the said celebrity's card on this occasion wasnt activated, which meant its expired and he is no more a beneficiary on the scheme or other reasons, the celebrity called the director who he seem to know on his (the celebrity's) phone and the director in turn asked the phone be passed to me and ordered me to give the food. The answer is a clear no to both of them.

Since that was not the procedure in matters involving that amount of money, which I could be asked to pay or sanctioned for, the Director's order over a phone line that is not his official number which I have somewhere in the office, his order is not valid.

Twenty minutes later, the director arrived in the store, and admired my action although by this time, the celebrity has raised hell and my line manager has arrived earlier and got totally scared that a Director was involved and I have refused. No, Director thought I did the right thing.

Any professional would do the same. So as the family and relatives mourn the deceased nurse, and we commiserate with them, it is absolutely essential and in the interest of the wider public that the hospital review its training to  ensure that it meets cultural differences and reassure patients that their records would be safe. That will also help reduce the sad event of suicide and two young kids being deprived of a parent due to an unsolved mystery that we are yet to understand.

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