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The paper — which named 26 breast cancer patients, their towns and some health information and histories — was lost somewhere in central Dunedin on Wednesday.
It was being taken by a Pacific Radiology employee from the company’s Bond St offices to Dunedin Hospital, but somewhere during that 1.5km journey the paper was lost.
"We express our empathy to the women involved, as privacy is very important in health matters," Libby Burgess, chairwoman of the Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition, said.
"We understand the information was to be used in a clinical meeting at the hospital to discuss the care of the women.
"A key concern we have is that those meetings can continue in a timely way — the health of the women is absolutely paramount."
The loss, which has been reported to the Privacy Commissioner, was "just a human error but it’s really regrettable", Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming said.
"We apologise unreservedly for the loss of this document.
"We take patient privacy very seriously and will undertake a full investigation with the aim of preventing a recurrence."
Pacific Radiology and SDHB staff searched for the document, without success, Mr Fleming said.
The loss had also been reported to police."Southern DHB and Pacific Radiology have called all affected patients and sent follow-up letters delivered by courier ... we will meet with anyone who wishes to discuss the matter in greater detail.
"We will also provide these patients with the findings of our review once it is complete."
Ms Burgess said it was concerning that private records of women with breast cancer could have been mislaid in a public place.
"We hope that the records are treated confidentially by whoever finds them and that they are returned as soon as possible to the Southern District Health Board or Pacific Radiology," she said.
"The women involved are welcome to contact us at Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition and let us know if there is anything they would like us to do, including talking to the organisations involved on their behalf."
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said he would expect those affected to be contacted straight away.
"Some women might not have concerns but for others it might be very distressing," Mr Edwards said.
"I’m sure [health authorities] are mortified but, again, it’s not something that can be taken lightly."
Mr Edwards said he would have expected a high level of oversight and control over that kind of information.
At least one other health board had shifted to using lockable iPads rather than paper files after a similar incident, he said.
Mr Fleming said once the SDHB’s investigation was complete, patients would receive a copy of the formal report and have the chance to ask questions.
- additional reporting NZME