The health service needs to do more to keep patients’ personal information secure, the Information Commissioner said today. The warning comes as the ICO finds a further five health organisations in breach of the Data Protection Act.
Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, 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 at NHS North Central London – which we are currently investigating – suggest that the security of data remains a systemic problem.
“The policies and procedures may already be in place but the fact is that they are not being followed on the ground. Health workers wouldn’t dream of discussing patient information openly with friends and yet they continue to put information on unencrypted memory sticks or fax it to the wrong number. The sector needs to bring about a culture change so that staff give more consideration to how they store and disclose data. Complying with the law needn’t be a day-to-day burden if effective measures are built in and then become second nature.
“My office is working with Connecting for Health to identify how we can support the health service to tackle these issues.”
The five undertakings the ICO has issued to health bodies all relate to incidents where they failed to take appropriate steps to ensure that sensitive personal information was kept secure.
- 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.
- Also 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.
An Undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. This follows the transmission of a fax containing sensitive personal data to the wrong recipient.
View the Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust undertaking
An Undertaking to comply with the seventh principal of the DPA has been signed by Dunelm Medical Practice,
further to the inappropriate facsimilie transmission and subsequent
disclosure of two patient’s electronic discharge letters, which
contained sensitive personal data, including medical information.
View the Dunelm Medical Practice undertaking
An undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust. This follows the transmission of a fax containing sensitive personal data to the wrong recipient..
View the East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust undertaking
An undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by the Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust. This follows the discovery of 29 patient records containing sensitive personal data in a public place.
View the Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust undertaking
An Undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. This follows the faxing of sensitive personal data to a member of the public on more than one occasion.
View the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust undertaking
The ICO has produced guidance for health organisations explaining their obligations to keep the personal information they handle secure, as well as giving advice on the security measures that must be in place. The guidance can be found here.
The ICO has also carried out a number of audits with health organisations to help them identify ways in which they can improve their handling of personal information. Details of the audits carried out by the ICO can be found here.
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