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5,000 NHS records vanish with latest lost laptop

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A laptop containing medical records for more than 5,000 people has been lost by a hospital near Dudley.

The latest data giveway occurred on 8 January. The laptop was taken from an outpatients department at Russells Hall Hospital.

West Midlands Police is investigating the theft and several thousand people have received warning letters telling them their data could be at risk.

The Dudley Group of Hospitals Trust told us patient data would be difficult to access because: "The database is password/login protected and a separate trust login and password is required to operate the laptop." Which sounds like better practice than that managed by most of the government.

The trust is in the process of putting data encryption software on all its laptops after a review last year. It will also encrypt data on all other mobile devices including PDAs and memory sticks. It has further hired an independent penetration tester to audit its network.

The trust apologised to patients affected.

Mike Small, director of security at CA said: "It almost seems like data loss is becoming the norm rather than a significant event at the moment, and that is worrying. In this case, it seems to point to a lack of value that organisations are putting on this sort of personal data. I'm not so sure it would have been so easily stolen if it was a briefcase full of cash."

The theft is the latest in a series of government department screw-ups which have seen as many as 37 million UK citizens have their personal data lost or stolen.

HMRC twice lost 25 million records relating to child benefits, the DVLA lost 6,000 records for vehicle owners, and the MoD misplaced a laptop containing details of 600,000 applicants to the armed services.

The government has hired Information Commissioner Richard Thomas and Dr Mark Walport to run the "Data Sharing Review" - a consultation on how and why data is shared and used by different departments. ®

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