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Families of loved ones whose confidential medical records could be among those found in a derelict building in Sydney’s South say they are “shocked” and “horrified” about the privacy breach.

Earlier this month a Hack and ABC News investigation revealed that more than 1,000 medical records of over 400 patients were found on the floor of the derelict and former site of the Garrawarra Centre – an aged care facility operated by the NSW Government.

Documents at the facility

Documents at the former site of the Garrawarra Centre for Aged Care

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told Hack today that he shared loved ones’ “anguish and anxiety” over the privacy breach.

“We all share the concern and the grief that people’s personal files were could suddenly be in a situation where they were not secure,” Mr Hazzard told Hack.

The story so far

  • Medical records of over 400 patients were found in a derelict building operated by the NSW Government
  • The files were dated from 1992 – 2002
  • The South Eastern Sydney Local Health District admitted patient files had been “mistakenly” stored in the building; ordered an internal investigation
  • NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard apologised for the breach; ordered a state-wide audit of archived medical records
  • At least one break-in to Garrawarra has occurred in the last fortnight despite additional security measures

“I was horrified to be honest when I heard about it.”

Mr Hazzard said “a lot more should have been done” to prevent the breach, and confirmed that documents at the Garrawarra site remain on the floor – while safety procedures around potential asbestos contamination of the site is underway.

A selection of documents obtained by the ABC and safely returned to NSW Health had been cleared of asbestos contamination, Mr Hazzard said, and were currently being assessed by the Ministry for Health.

Mr Hazzard said he has directed the Ministry of Health to conduct a statewide audit of archived medical records, and is unaware of any decommissioned NSW Health buildings that might contain confidential medical records.

“I made it very clear to the ministry of health that I as minister of health will be very unhappy if they don’t do the audit as quickly as possible.”

Despite extra security measures put in place at the Garrawarra since Hack and ABC News alerted NSW Health to the breach, Mr Hazzard confirmed there has been an additional break-in at the site since.

Sandra Jones, whose grandfather died at Garrawarra in 2000, told Hack that she was sickened by the news.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on TV,” Sandra said.

“It made me sick. It made me physically sick. The first thing I thought was, his records will be in there – because he had dementia, he used to wander.

“People shouldn’t be able to see those records, they’re personal, and that home is supposed to have a duty of care. Nobody wants their records scattered everywhere for everyone to see.

“I would like to be contacted, an apology, and whoever’s done this – they should be held accountable.”

Sandra Jones with a photo of her grandfather Robert

Sandra Jones with a photo of her grandfather Robert

Sandra says even if her Grandfather’s records aren’t found to be implicated in the breach, the incident has brought back painful memories about the end of his life.

“It’s just opened old wounds up. We’ve seen the photos, and we were horrified.

“Why was it left like that?”

Danielle Lorimer, whose maternal grandmother was a patient at the Garrawarra Centre for Aged Care until 1989, said she was left shocked and confused by the privacy breach.

“I was initially shocked to think that something was just left like that. And sadness, it brought back a lot of memories being there. Why was it left like that?”

Danielle Lorimer

Lynda Lorimer

“It’s not acceptable, it’s a breach of privacy, and I really hope they can do something to correct it,” Lynda told Hack.

“It’s a bit disappointing really, someone should be held accountable for it. I just don’t understand why it actually happened in the first place.”

Lynda says she isn’t concerned about what someone could have done with her mother’s medical records if they were found in the abandoned building.

“I don’t see what harm they can do with mum’s paperwork. It’s just sad that it’s happened.”

Photos of Danielle's nan

Photos of Danielle’s nan, Melba

Former staff shocked by breach

Hack has spoken confidentially with a number of current and former staff members of the Garrawarra Centre for Aged Care, who are “disappointed” and “shocked” by the privacy breach.

One former nurse, who worked at Garrawarra at the time notes found in the building were dated, is calling on the NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard to take further action.

“I think that management should have made sure these notes were put in a proper locked up area. Security should have been better so that people couldn’t access the building,” the former Garrawarra nurse said, speaking to Hack on the condition of anonymity.

“It is very upsetting for the families and the loved ones because they placed their confidence into the staff to keep their notes private.

“This has breached trust – how can people have trust with doctors and the health system if their notes are not kept private?”

“An apology from the NSW Health Minister isn’t enough.”

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