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NHS warned about data protection

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Data breaches at four trusts have prompted the Information Commissioner's Office to remind the health service about patient record privacy.

All NHS trusts have been reminded about data security after breaches at Cambridge University Hospital, Central Lancashire Primary Care, North West London Hospitals and Hull & East Yorkshire NHS trusts.

In Cambridge an unencrypted memory stick containing the medical treatment details of 741 patients was lost when a staff member left it in an unattended vehicle. The memory stick, which was privately owned, was discovered by a car wash attendant who was able to access the contents and establish ownership. The information was downloaded without the knowledge of the trust.

Central Lancashire also lost a memory stick with the treatment details of 6,360 prison patients, some believed to be former inmates of HMP Preston. The memory stick was thought to have been lost by a member of staff returning from the prison clinic and, despite being encrypted, the details could have been accessed from a note of the password which was attached to the device.

Two laptops and a desktop computer were stolen from the North West London Hospitals trust. They contained test results and the hospital numbers of 361 patients. The laptops were stolen from the audiology department of Central Middlesex Hospital and the PC was taken from the offices of Northwick Park Hospital after the security swipe card system was disabled for maintenance. Although the equipment was password protected, the data was not encrypted.

In two incidents at Hull & East Yorkshire, a computer was lost during refurbishments and a disused laptop was stolen from a locked office. Together they contained the unencrypted medical details of 2,300 patients.

The ICO said that all four trusts have signed formal undertakings to process personal information in line with the Data Protection Act. They will implement measures to protect personal information more effectively and all portable and mobile devices used to store and transmit personal data must be encrypted.

Mick Gorrill, assistant information commissioner at the ICO, said: "These four cases serve as a stark reminder to all NHS organisations that sensitive patient information is not always being handled with adequate security.

"It is a matter of significant concern to us that in the last six months it has been necessary to take regulatory action against 14 NHS organisations for data breaches. In these latest cases staff members have accessed patient records without authorisation and on occasions have failed to adhere to policies to protect such information in transit. There is little point in encrypting a portable media device and then attaching the password to it.

"The Data Protection Act clearly states that organisations must take appropriate measures to ensure that personal information is kept secure. These four organisations recognise the seriousness of these data losses and have agreed to take immediate remedial action."

This article was originally published at Kable.

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