[back] Medical records

Outrage over loss of medical files

By Iain Harrison http://www.dcthomson.co.uk/MAGS/POST/postindex.htm

Wendy Stephen with her daughter Katie show the unsatisfactory reply they had from the House of Commons when trying to gain access to MMR records.BUNGLING health officials have come under fire for destroying potentially explosive medical files over the course of two decades.

The information, believed to include thousands of letters, patient notes and internal memos, was binned by officials at the Scottish Home and Health Department in the 1980s and ’90s.

Reports relating to BSE/CJD, asbestos-related illnesses and hepatitis C and HIV contracted through blood transfusions could all be among the material destroyed.


A woman investigating whether the MMR vaccine caused her daughter’s health problems made the shocking discovery after requesting the disclosure of information relating to the jab.

Wendy Stephen (right, with her daughter Katie), a former psychiatric nurse from Stonehaven, was originally told her request for correspondence between medical officials was denied because the documents were unavailable.

But it has now been admitted they’ve been destroyed.

In a letter to Wendy’s MP, health minister Nicola Sturgeon said, “Senior medical officer files were not held centrally within the Scottish Home and Health Department but retained by individual doctors during their period of employment and destroyed thereafter”.

She went on to admit the policy during the era has resulted in “major gaps” in the health department’s archives.

It is unclear whether officials broke the law.

The destruction of the files would have breached public records legislation in England and Wales, where government bodies are required to transfer all public records to the Keeper of the National Archives who has sole authority over their disposal.

But in Scotland the law is less stringent.

Last night, Dr Jean Turner of the Scotland Patients Association called for a full-scale inquiry.

“Very serious”

Ross Finnie, the Lib Dem shadow health secretary, described the data loss as “very serious” and demanded assurances such practices have ended.

Margaret Curran, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary said, “This is deeply concerning. Medical records should not be ditched.

“Efforts must be made to ensure this never happens again.”

Mother-of-three Wendy said, “This is absolutely shocking and I’m horrified such an important government department had no proper filing system.”

Former MSP Dr Turner was scathing in her condemnation of the practices.

“This is absolutely horrifying,” she said. “It has very serious implications, not just for patients but for doctors.

“What happens if a doctor is called to give evidence in court and he requires access to these files? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

“I’d like to think there would be an inquiry.”

A spokesman for The National Archives of Scotland said public records legislation in Scotland should be tightened.

“For the last 20 years or so the Government has had a fairly tight regime in place in relation to files and it would be very unusual for any to be destroyed without us being consulted,” he added.


“In saying that, the Public Records Scotland Act 1937 is woefully inadequate and I do not believe there is a compulsion on an official under this particular law to go down this route.

“There may, however, be other laws relating to medical files. The minister responsible has asked us to embark on a review of the legislation.”

A spokesman for the Tories, who were in government at the time the files went missing, said the losses were “regrettable”.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman admitted there were issues with record keeping at the SHHD over a number of years.

“These have since been addressed and there is now a comprehensive records management system in place,” she added.

“All relevant staff are aware of the importance of adhering to these procedures.”

The SHHD was responsible for all NHS and public health issues north of the Border until 1995. NHS Scotland and the Public Health Policy Unit now fulfil its role.