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'Health Service must get its data practices right'

The ICO has released a statement urging the Health Service must get its data practices right, following the confirmation that a further five health organisations have been found to have breached the Data Protection Act.

Christopher Graham has said:
“The health service holds some of the most sensitive personal information of any sector in the UK. Millions of records are constantly being accessed and we appreciate that there will be occasions where human error occurs. But recent incidents such as the loss of laptops.. put[ting] information on unencrypted memory sticks or faxing [information] to the wrong number suggest that the security of data remains a systemic problem…. My office is working with Connecting for Health to identify how we can support the health service to tackle these issues”.

Examples of previous breaches include:

In February 2011, Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust misplaced 29 patient records after a member of staff took them home to update a training log and then lost the records. The information, which included sensitive personal data relating to operations carried out on patients, was subsequently recovered. The Trust introduced mandatory data protection training for all relevant staff to be completed by 30 June 2011.

In February 2011, Dunelm Medical Practice in Durham sent discharge letters about two patient’s routine operations to the wrong recipient. A member of staff had failed to spot that they had entered the recipients’ fax number incorrectly. The faxes were received by a third party organisation which immediately alerted County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust before destroying both documents. The Practice has now agreed to send Electronic Discharge Letters by secure email and only fax them in exceptional circumstances. The Practice will also programme the fax machine with the numbers for the regional branches to better protect the information in future.