Eel X-ray hospital staff disciplined

Last updated 10:28 17/04/2013

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Thirty-three staff at Auckland City Hospital have been punished for looking at X-rays and information on a man who had an eel stuck up his bottom.

Staff were sacked, given verbal warnings, written warnings and final written warnings after an investigation found there was no legitimate reason to access the patients records.

The majority of the privacy breaches were from looking at the man's radiology images on a computer, but some staff also looked at the his blood test results and the discharge summary.

The privacy breach stretched to the distribution of information to public and media.

The disciplinary action was the result of a six-month investigation into the breach.

"The findings are disappointing, to say the least, but we are taking action to ensure compliance with Auckland DHB policy in future," said Auckland District Health Board Chief Executive Ailsa Claire.

"Now we must ensure this situation serves to highlight and build understanding of our privacy obligations to our patients," she said.

The patient sought medical attention in September 2012, after the eel became lodged in his lower stomach.

Doctors at Auckland Hospital had to surgically remove the eel, hospital sources said.

The x-ray of the eel stuck in the man was the topic of hospital gossip after it was emailed out, in what was a major breach of the patient's privacy.

The case became world news after it was leaked to the media.

A total of 49 staff, including six senior medical officers, 21 junior doctors, 20 nurses or midwives and two scientific and technical health staff, were initially investigated.

"One of the fundamental responsibilities of working in a healthcare environment is showing respect for patients' rights to privacy," said Claire when the investigation was launched.

"I take that responsibility very seriously indeed and I expect our staff to work and act at all times with a level of professionalism that honours the trust our patients place in us," she said.

All ADHB staff would now be required to re-sign a confidentiality agreement each year.

The patient did not make a complaint but had remained fully informed throughout the investigation, and had been issued an apology.

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