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Info chief prescribes shock therapy for health dept

Scathing judgement on junior doc debacle

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The Information Commissioner’s Office has slated the Department of Health over a data protection debacle that saw Doctor’s intimate personal details plastered over the web.

The security breach on the Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) website, which the ICO became aware of in May, meant junior doctor’s personal data, down to their religious beliefs and sexual orientation, could be accessed by visitors to the site.

In a humiliating move the DoH will have to sign a formal undertaking “to comply with the principles of the data protection Act.” Failure to comply will mean further enforcement action, including prosecutions, said the ICO.

Given that, as of next year, the government is prepared to back prison terms for officials who screw up on protecting personal data, the DoH better get its act together. It's unlikely to inspire customer patients confidence in the NHS' various other IT wheezes.

On a more mundane level, the DoH has been told to encrypt any personal data on its website “which could cause distress to individuals if disclosed.” It must also carry out regular penetration and vulnerability testing on developing apps, and staff must be trained on the Data Protecton Act.

The security breach was just one element of debacle surrounding the online application scheme, which threw the whole UK junior doctor community into chaos. The online system was supposed to match applicants to training places, but was deemed a woeful failure, in large part because it required everyone to apply for places at the same time. As the closing date drew near the system ground to a halt – and not just because all and sundry were able to ogle the more intimate details of junior doctors’ lives.

Former DoH boss Patricia Hewitt finally switched off the life support for the system in May. A revamped system should be in place for 2009.®

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