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Health bosses in Lancashire are facing awkward questions after confidential medical records of 13 cancer patients found their way onto a portable memory stick, which was repackaged and sold as new to a Crewe estate agent.

Investigations into the leak of the medical records of 13 patients are continuing, the Bolton Evening Newsreported yesterday. Meanwhile hospital chiefs are trying to restore confidence by vowing to take steps to make sure that such a serious security breach can never happen again.

Graham Fullarton, the Royal Bolton Hospital's data protection manager, told the paper that there would be a "full review" of hospital procedures, which will likely result in a ban on portable storage devices.

"Using memory sticks is unusual and unorthodox. We don't want people to cart information like this around," he said.

"We are treating this with the utmost gravity. It is a serious incident. There has to be additional security put in place to make sure this situation is not repeated.

Police involvement in the incident is dependent on the results of the hospital's own internal investigation.

An early picture of what happened and when has emerged, but there are still plenty of blanks in the story to fill in.

It seems medical records of patients (dating back to 1999) were copied from a hospital PC onto a portable memory stick. We don't know who did this.

How this stick was subsequently obtained by a unnamed Crewe reseller, who sold it (as a new, blank stick) to estate agent Dawn Rozzell for £30, also remains unclear.

In any case when Ms Rozzell connected the stick to her PC she had quite a surprise - it contained "the dates of birth, home addresses, telephone numbers, family medical histories and GP details" of 13 cancer patients, the Bolton Evening Newsreports.

Hospital bosses have promised to contact affected patients, once their identities are confirmed. ®

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