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Gross invasion of personal privacy by neighbour

(156 Posts)
gldd Mon 19-Oct-20 20:58:03

Hi everyone, I wondered if I could ask the thoughts of the Mumsnet community on a sensitive issue regarding personal / medical privacy. Around 1 year ago my wife and I suffered through a positive NIPT and then scan confirming severe chromosomal abnormalities 12 weeks into our pregnancy, followed by an extremely upsetting medical termination. We are still dealing with this loss and its associated sadness with the help of a professional counsellor. My wife is a private person and has chosen to share this information only with a counsellor, family, and close friends.

Last week during baby loss awareness week we received through our letterbox a handwritten note from one of our next-door neighbours commiserating my wife on her loss and explaining in some detail our neighbour’s past fertility problems (she now has two small children). This neighbour, who is not a friend (we only very occasionally see her and say hello) works part-time as a receptionist at our local surgery. Earlier this year, for a number of reasons including the fact that our neighbour may view our confidential medical records, my wife decided to move to another nearby surgery. This neighbour had clearly accessed my wife’s (or my?) medical records, presumably has shared the information with her partner and mother (with whom she lives for now), and then decided to write my wife the message.

My first reaction was shock that a stranger could access and share what I would consider to be the most intimate and private medical information. Surely this is in breach of surgery rules, medical confidentiality, or even the law, especially given GDPR? A friend we have shared this with is of the opinion that it constitutes a sackable offence. At the time, my wife was also shocked (and upset) but perhaps more forgiving and so wrote a brief note thanking her for her concern and thoughts. Obviously, it would be very difficult to be on bad terms with our immediate neighbour. I can imagine them taking offense quite easily. In recent days and thinking about it more my wife has been very upset at the breach of privacy, at the reminder of our upsetting experience, her uninvited unburdening, at the thought that our near-neighbour nosed through our records without our permission, and at the fact that although the note was thoughtful in a way, was actually far more about our neighbour and about her difficulties. Perhaps it was a way for her to process her own experiences?

We’re wondering what next steps to take and would be interested in thoughts. Has anyone had a similar experience? Can anyone advise on the legal position here? My wife and I have discussed it at length and my wife feels that it would be too upsetting to bring it up herself. Neither of us would want our neighbour to lose her job, however surely I should bring this up with the practice to ensure that safeguarding procedures are in place, that medical information is confidential and kept confidential, and that this would not happen again? I have decided to leave the practise myself. I’m also thinking of raising it with the neighbour, though that will be a difficult conversation. Should we leave it and put her mistake down to the foolishness of youth? I’d be interested in everyone else’s thoughts.


OP’s posts: |
sunsalutations Mon 19-Oct-20 21:02:27

I would say it is breach of GDPR. Medical records are categorised as the most sensitive data. I would make a formal complaint to the surgery and let them deal with the matter as her employer. It may be a training issue in the surgery too, so you would avoid future breaches if they can rectify.

espressoontap Mon 19-Oct-20 21:02:35

I would go to the practice manager. There is no reason for her to access your records. The only thing I was thinking was if she'd seen some medical letters from obs&gynae that GPs receive and she'd inadvertently seen them. If I had seen them I would never mention it to you or your wife.

LetItGoHome Mon 19-Oct-20 21:19:02

How much detail was included in the letter? I know you and your wife where private at the time but is there no way that she could have found out somehow? or heard something from somewhere? Or even guessed from what she saw through her net curtains at the time? If someone was going to snoop it seems unlikely they would out themselves like that. It is a sackable offence and anyone that works in a health care setting would know that.

GarlicSoup Mon 19-Oct-20 21:23:38

Are you absolutely sure that your neighbour could not have learned of your loss from your friends or family? So sorry for your loss flowers

BackforGood Mon 19-Oct-20 21:30:42

What @LetItGoHome and @GarlicSoup said.
It seems unlikely that she would look at your wife's records, and, if she did, then be stupid enough to 'out' herself like that.

She must have heard from family or from close friends. Only takes one person to tell another, 'in confidence', and someone 'assumes' someone else knows etc., then she has tried to do something nice and empathise and let you know that, although you are in a dark place at the moment, life does go on and there can be good news further down the line.
No way would she have done that if she had breached confidence to look up records.

Disfordarkchocolate Mon 19-Oct-20 21:33:24

I don't think you should be so convinced your neighbour has accessed your wife's medical records. Even close friends gossip, often with the best of intentions.

Horehound Mon 19-Oct-20 21:35:41

You can't be certain she did snoop. She could have heard about it. People talk.

She was obviously trying to do something nice as well... As much as I may not be happy with it I think I'd just let it go

LadyFannyButton Mon 19-Oct-20 21:38:21

There is an audit trail on computers so it could be easily looked into.

If your wife left the practice at the beginning of the year I can’t see why a receptionist would now mention it if she had looked. Once records have been transferred to a new practice, it asks if you have a valid reason to access the records on our system.

I think you are making a big assumption and need to ask her how she was aware before you make any complaint to your old surgery.

I’m sorry for your loss flowers

PotteringAlong Mon 19-Oct-20 21:38:29

Was your wife obviously pregnant? Or did they know she was pregnant? Because if she was and then there was no baby it’s not bed to work out that a pregnancy had been lost one way or another flowers

sallyedmondson Mon 19-Oct-20 21:40:50

I believe its possible for the surgery to see who accesses medical records and when. If you report it to the pratice manager they could if they wished prove it one way or another. If proven then they would take appropriate action.

gldd Mon 19-Oct-20 21:46:38

She could not have found out from anyone we've told as none of them live nearby and we've been very private about this. She wrote in her note '... since I worked at xxx surgery I had to open and file letters / documents of yours...'.

We spoke with a GP friend of ours who said that anyone in her position who comes across confidential medical information relating to someone they know should be recusing themselves immediately, handing it to a colleague, and certainly not sharing it.

OP’s posts: |
octopusjournal Mon 19-Oct-20 21:47:55

There should be an audit trail so the surgery will know whether she has or not. If she did access them that is totally unacceptable.

Speak to the surgery and see if they can check who has accessed the records. If she hasn't looked she won't get into trouble

octopusjournal Mon 19-Oct-20 21:49:27

you're right OP. Even if she did see something by accident it was totally inappropriate to then write the letter

LetItGoHome Mon 19-Oct-20 21:52:57

Well if she has actually written in the letter that she found out through reading your medical records then you have her bang to rights surely! If you and your wife are upset show the letter to the practice manager. I dont think she'd have a leg to stand on.

Rudolphian Mon 19-Oct-20 21:53:13

If she accessed your records electronically there will be a trail and this can easily be checked by the practice.
Unfortunately if she is in a
Admin she may have dealt with your letters and filed them. Its unlikely she would have been expected to stop and give it to someone else.
But she should never have approached you with this information. It should have been kept confidential. She could get into trouble simply for writing the letter.

Heyahun Mon 19-Oct-20 21:53:36

Think about what you want the outcome to be - you say you don’t want her to lose her job? But if she has done this - surely that’s exactly what’s going to happen - and then she will know you reported her and you will have to continue living next door to her.
But of course really, something like this should usually be reported!!

The fact that you are neighbours makes it a more complex situation

Gurufloof Mon 19-Oct-20 21:53:40

When I worked in the NHS I had to recuse myself from things like this. Your neighbour should have done too.
It can be traced who looked at the records and when, who scanned documents and attached them to the patient file.

LetItGoHome Mon 19-Oct-20 21:53:52

Well if she has actually written in the letter that she found out through reading your medical records then you have her bang to rights surely! If you and your wife are upset show the letter to the practice manager. I dont think she'd have a leg to stand on.

GreenClock Mon 19-Oct-20 21:54:48

I deal with sensitive financial information and when I come across someone I know, I close the case without reviewing it, and make my manager aware so that he can reallocate it. That’s the procedure and from what the PP said, surgeries have similar procedures. The practice manager needs to be told, because the surgery’s reputation is being put at risk by this woman’s actions.

maryberryslayers Mon 19-Oct-20 21:57:03

I wouldn't jump to conclusions, she may have known your wife was pregnant from midwife booking etc then realised herself it didn't progress. I had to tell the gp receptionist I needed to book in, who I was there to see etc.
It's feels so invasive and you have every right to be upset but there is a huge push for women to talk about baby loss, she may have just wanted your wife to know she wasn't alone by telling her own story, common ground is often how people relate.
Personally I'd put it down to poor judgment from her but ultimately she was trying to do something kind. By writing a note as opposed to knocking the door for instance, she gave your wife the opportunity to respond on her own terms, or not.
Just let it go. I think reporting her would be a bit much and make things awful between you as neighbours, especially if she's done nothing wrong in terms of accessing files.

Harmarsuperstar Mon 19-Oct-20 21:57:45

She must be thick as two short planks if she's admitted to accessing your medical records and put it in writing to you. Its hard to believe anyone could be so stupid

LizzieSiddal Mon 19-Oct-20 22:00:54

She’s given you the evidence to take to your surgery, I’d do that tomorrow.

She should be sacked immediately for gross misconduct.

MissyBate Mon 19-Oct-20 22:05:05

I’m so very sorry for your loss OP. flowers

You mentioned she sent the letter during baby loss awareness week. Could she have noticed you’d lit a candle or anything? I only ask because one of my neighbours commented on the candle we’d lit.

Jynxed Mon 19-Oct-20 22:05:16

I’m shocked. I work in the NHS and I can confirm this is absolutely a sackable offence. There is very clear training, repeated annually, about information, privacy and confidentiality. If I even see someone I recognise I discreetly avoid them and would not mention seeing them even to my immediate family. There is an antenatal clinic in my building and even when I have seen someone there repeatedly I say nothing either to them or anyone else. You should report this (and neighbour will be disciplined).

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