We conducted a 3-cycle audit of disposal of clinically sensitive information in a mental health unit, in order to identify and reduce potential breaches in patients' confidentiality. Material from waste bins in administrative areas of a mental health unit was examined every evening during each period of the audit.
The first search, conducted over a 3-week period, yielded 11 documents containing highly-sensitive information about patients. After feedback to staff and improvement of shredding facilities, no sensitive information was found during the follow-up 3-week survey, 3 months later. However, a third survey 2 years later found 24 highly-sensitive items after one week, despite shredding facilities being maintained.
Changes in behaviour identified in this audit appear to be due to education rather than improved facilities. All staff involved in patient care need to maintain awareness of the need for safe disposal of confidential material.
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