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NHS Barnet reveals 187 breaches of personal data

Most leaky of 30 London NHS orgs that responded to data breach FoI request

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A North London primary care trust has suffered the most personal data breaches among NHS trusts in the capital over the past three years, according to figures obtained by Guardian Healthcare.

The figures showed that out of 30 trusts responding to a freedom of information (FoI) request, NHS Barnet owned up to over 20 per cent of the 909 breaches.

Incidents at the trust – which is responsible for a population of around 370,000 people – included a bag containing patient notes being left in a public area, a fax being sent to the wrong person and a "loss of records". Overall, NHS Barnet reported 62 breaches of personal information by staff in 2008-09, 80 in 2009-10 and 45 from January 2010 to January 2011.

In its response, NHS Barnet said that in the second and third examples, the teams concerned had reviewed their procedures, including those involving information governance and security. In the first case, the bag was recovered by a member of staff.

Guardian Healthcare asked all 71 trusts in London (before the formation of primary care trust clusters) to disclose the number of data breaches by employees of personal information, including serious incidents as well as low-level breaches over the last three years. By the time of publication, 30 had responded with the requested information.

Chelsea and Westminster hospital foundation trust reported the second highest number of incidents, with 123 data breaches since 2008-09, and the highest annual level, 45, occurring in April 2010 to February 2011. It reported a high level breach in 2008 involving the loss of a memory stick with patient-identifiable information, which led to an internal investigation and an investigation by the Metropolitan Police. Another breach at the trust graded "orange" involved a member of staff finding five sets of patients' notes in a bin visible to the ward corridor. Most of the incidents were considered "low-level", however.

Camden and Islington foundation trust came third in the list, with 72 breaches since 2008-09, followed by Barking, Havering and Redbridge hospitals trust with 68 breaches, of which seven were classed as serious. One data breach involved the theft of a doctor's personal unencrypted laptop, which contained patient information. The trust said that the laptop was password-protected.

At the time of receiving responses, the Royal National Orthopaedic trust, NHS Croydon and NHS Havering said that there had been no data breaches at their organisations since 2008.

Under government guidelines, trusts must declare any serious patient data or breach of confidentiality in their annual report, but they do not have to disclose low-level breaches. Outside of the 30 trusts that released figures to Guardian Healthcare, eight more responded with just a link to their annual reports.

Trusts are required to report any data breach deemed serious to the relevant strategic health authority and then the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). The central government watchdog has the power to issue fines of up to £500,000 for breaches of the Data Protection Act. In June 2010 the ICO disclosed that the NHS was the top sector for data losses, with 305 incidents reported to the organisation since November 2007, beating levels in the private sector and local government.

Find a table of Personal data breaches by London NHS trusts, 2008-11, here.

This article was originally published at Guardian Professional. Join the Guardian Healthcare Network to receive regular emails on NHS innovation.

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