Thursday, November 27, 2008

NHS lost patient details 135 times in two years

Losing government files on people is one way in which British bureaucrats are world leaders. It makes the news about once a month and all departments seem to be affected. The article below shows, however, that the news reports are just the tip of the iceberg

The NHS has lost the confidential medical records and personal details of thousands of patients in a "catalogue of errors" uncovered by an investigation into how the health service handles data. A "fundamental re-examination" of how the NHS deals with personal data was demanded last night after research showed that a series of losses and thefts had potentially exposed the private details of 10,000 patients around the country. A total of 135 cases were reported, including the loss or theft of diaries, briefcases, CDs, laptops, memory sticks and, in one case, a vehicle containing patient records.

A back-up tape of an entire system was stolen from a general practice in the East of England this year. In another case, a laptop containing the records of 5,123 patients was stolen from the outpatients' department of a hospital in the West Midlands.

The revelations will cast renewed doubt over the Government's ability to handle personal data after a series of high-profile losses by Revenue & Customs and the ministries of Justice and Defence in the past year, and will raise further questions about the scheme to create a computerised national patient database to allow easier communication between GPs and hospitals.

The Liberal Democrats, who carried out the series of Freedom of Information requests, called for the Government to scrap its plans for a national computerised database. Norman Lamb, the party's health spokesman, has also written to Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, with four other recommendations, including prohibiting the use of mobile devices to store patient records and publishing a set of minimum data protection standards.

Mr Lamb said: "These reports show utterly shocking lapses in security. Patients have a right to expect their personal information to be treated with the utmost care. "The degree of negligence in some cases is breathtaking, given the absolute sensitivity of patient data. There must be a fundamental re-examination of how the NHS deals with personal data. The NHS should regard lapses of standards of care as potential serious misconduct."

The details, obtained through requests made to strategic health authorities, revealed incidents of data loss dating back as far as 2006. In some cases, private patient notes were found in public places or deserted buildings, or had been dumped in bins and skips. One loss of records was so serious that police and an NHS manager became involved. The incident occurred in January, when a district nurse took home activity sheets with patients' names and addresses, which were stolen during a burglary.


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