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Lost memory stick had 87 NHS patients' info unencrypted

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A medical student who copied the private data of 87 patients onto a memory stick – and then lost it – has landed the University Hospital of South Manchester in trouble with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

The ICO ruled today (7 September) that the South Manchester hospital breached the Data Protection Act by letting the student copy the names, ages, occupations and operation details of 87 patients at the Burns and Plastics unit in Manchester on to a unsecured personal memory stick. The data specifically related to hand operation patients.

The student initially copied the info onto an NHS approved encrypted memory stick but then copied the information again onto a personal, non-encrypted memory stick in order to continue auditing work after their placement at the hospital had ended. The memory stick then went AWOL.

The ICO information committee blasted the NHS for not briefing the student correctly. The University-affiliated hospital explained that they believed the student had been taught about data protection by the university, but have promised now to brief all staff, temporary and permanent on data protection laws.

Sally Anne Poole, Acting Head of Enforcement at the ICO said:

“This case highlights the need to ensure data protection training for healthcare providers is built in early on so that it becomes second nature. Medics handle some of the most sensitive personal information possible and it is vital that they understand the need to keep it secure at all times, especially when they are completing placements at several health organisations. NHS bodies have a duty to make sure their staff – both permanent and temporary – understand their responsibilities on day one in the job. ®

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