Pharmacy in Canberra dumps the medical records

September 12, 2013 |

The Canberra Times reports in Pharmacy sorry after records found at recycling centre on the dumping of hundreds of private medical records at a recycling centre in the Australian Capital Territory. Just on the known and admitted facts it is an eggregiuos interference with individuals’s privacy.

The article provides:

A Jamison pharmacy has apologised for accidentally dumping hundreds of private medical records, including cancelled and out-of-date prescriptions, at a recycling depot earlier this week.

A Territory and Municipal Services officer was sent to the Belconnen Resource Management Centre on Monday night following a report that prescription medication had been found at the site.

The TAMS officer who inspected the centre’s recycling cage did not find any medication but discovered a box of medical records containing hundreds of private details.

A TAMS spokesperson said the officer left the box of papers in the recycling cage “with the understanding that it would be recycled with the rest of the paper”.

The recycling cage was emptied on Tuesday morning and the contents taken to the Mugga Lane Resource Management Centre.

The documents from the Amcal Pharmacy in Jamison were incorrectly disposed of, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia said.

“It appears that some non-professional staff in the pharmacy threw some boxes out,” the guild’s ACT president Amanda Galbraith said.

”They had been sent to their off-site storage facility to tidy up and without the advice of the pharmacist took them to the recycling facility.”

Amcal Pharmacy Jamison manager Karen Loo said she regretted the mistake.

“We deeply apologise for the mishap, ”Ms Loo said.

”It is a genuine error, when my staff were cleaning out the storage they did not realise that boxes of old records were in there.”

According to the pharmacy guild, when Ms Loo was alerted to the discovery of the records on Tuesday morning she attempted to retrieve the documents from the Mugga Lane Resource Management Centre only to be told that any papers that had been picked up would have already been recycled.

Ms Galbraith said that while the incident was not usual practice for the Jamison pharmacy, the error was concerning.

“If it was me I would be thoroughly embarrassed, I personally would be more than embarrassed,” Ms Galbraith said.

National privacy guidelines require an organisation to take reasonable steps to destroy or permanently de-identify personal information if it is no longer needed.

Shredding, pulping and disintegration of paper are listed as these ”reasonable steps”.

Ms Galbraith said that while disposal methods differed between pharmacies, they all should be aware that dumping documents at a recycling depot was unacceptable.

“It is not that pharmacy’s normal practice, but the rules are a little bit vague,” she said.

“Some pharmacies use a secure destruction company and some pharmacies shred on site and then recycle at the tips.”

Ms Loo said that she held a staff meeting on Tuesday to remind employees that Monday’s oversight was “unacceptable”.

”All staff have been reminded of the privacy procedure, the staff involved were deeply remorseful,” she said.

“To prevent this from happening again we will be getting a confidential disposal company to dispose of our medical documents in the future.”

TAMS has reported the incident as a possible breach of the Privacy Act to the Australian Information Commissioner and ACT Health has informed the Health Services Commissioner.

The Australian Information Commissioner said it was making inquiries into the incident.

ACT Health said concerned consumers could contact the Health Services Commissioner by phoning 6205 2222 or by emailing it at

The reported response by the pharmacy in question and the Pharmacy Guild is disappointingly laconic.  Hopefully with the amendments to the Privacy Act coming into effect in March 2014 the enforcement can be sued for such an appalling breach of patient confidentiality. An interesting legal issue in this fact situation, limited as it is at this stage, is whether the responsible pharamacist has breached his or her ethical obligations.  Is it unprofessional or professional misconduct?

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