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Doctors attack NHS IT system

Patient confidentiality at risk, say concerned sawbones

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Doctors have spoken out against the controversial £12.4bn NHS IT system that is over budget and behind schedule, claiming that patient confidentiality is being put at risk by the system.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, a series of doctors have said that it is unwise to put the medical records of the entire population on one computer. The news comes just days after an investigation by the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) painted a picture of a project in crisis.

Two key witnesses told the PAC that the system's problems were caused by the fact that doctors were not properly consulted while it was being designed. Now doctors are saying that the system puts patient data at risk. "Workers in hospitals or general practice surgeries might seek inappropriate access to medical records because of curiosity or malice, commercial gain or simple error," said Michael Foley in the article, according to the Press Association. Foley is a consultant anaesthetist at Middlesbrough's James Cook University Hospital.

"If screens are left on in open areas or passwords compromised, tracing of access for disciplinary purposes would be difficult," said Cook. The IT system is designed to hold 50 million patient records when finished, and it is that concentration in one central computer that has caused the latest controversy.

A central element of the programme, the 'choose and book' appointment management service, has fallen severely behind planned usage levels. Designed to manage 100 per cent of appointment bookings by the end of 2005, the system is being used to manage just 20 per cent of appointments, according to Silicon.com.

Concerns about security have been heightened since a recent report found that mobile devices can prove an easy way into NHS IT systems.

Meanwhile a report has discovered that NHS IT system security is being compromised because of poor or non-existent mobile device security. Carried out by Pointsec Mobile Technologies and the British Journal of Healthcare Computing and Information Management, the survey has found that two thirds of mobile data storage devices have inadequate security.

"There is much documented evidence of patients who are worried about the safe-keeping of electronic medical records," said Martin Allen, managing director of Pointsec, when the survey was released late last month. "This survey shows that the medical sector themselves are worried about information being held on mobile devices which are not being secured by their NHS Trust. It will only be a matter of time before these weaknesses are exploited."

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