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London health authority put on notice over data breach

ICO fumes over dumped PCs with patient records

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A north London health authority has been given until the end of the month to improve its information security policies following an embarrassing information security blunder last year.

The Information Commissioner's Office has given Camden Primary Care Trust until the end of the month to pull up its socks following a breach of the Data Protection Act. The ICO's enforcement order comes after PCs containing 2,500 patients' names, addresses and medical histories were dumped beside a skip inside the grounds of St Pancras Hospital last August.

Data on the obsolete computers was left unencrypted. The machines were subsequently swiped without authorisation and never recovered.

Mick Gorrill, Assistant Information Commissioner at the ICO, said: "This incident highlights organisational error and will no doubt damage public trust in the NHS locally.

"I am increasingly concerned about the way some NHS organisations dispose of sensitive patient information. Organisations need to ensure they implement appropriate safeguards to ensure personal details about patients are disposed of in compliance with the Data Protection Act."

The ICO has ordered the Camden PCT to ensure personal information is removed from its computers as soon as they are decommissioned, and to report on its progress in achieving this goal by the end of the month. Failure to comply with the order would place the health authority in contempt of court.

Camden PCT chief executive Rob Larkman told the Health Service Journal that the incident that provoked the order was an aberration. He added that the health authority had reviewed its procedures and training as a result of the incident.

"NHS Camden sets itself incredibly high standards when it comes to patient confidentiality and data protection," Larkman said. "Unfortunately, on this occasion we fell below our high standards by inadequately disposing of a number of obsolete computers." ®

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