NHS criticised for data loss false alarm

It has been revealed that the NHS spent thousands of pounds and hours of staff time looking for a portable storage device that it thought was lost or stolen, but which was eventually found to be safe and untouched.

In Scotland the Lothians hospital administration was sent into high alert when it was discovered that an SD memory card from a digital camera was no longer where a member of staff had left it. The card was significant because it contained sensitive images relating to patients at the hospital and its loss or theft could have resulted in serious embarrassment for hospital management.

A search effort was mounted, lasting over six weeks at great cost to the hospital. However, it emerged that the card had in fact simply slipped and become concealed in the locker where it was stored and had been resting there ever since.

The pseudo-data loss was only discovered after journalists put in a request using the Freedom of Information Act. Some have been quick to denounce the amount of time and money that was spent by the NHS on a hunt for a portable storage device that was not, in fact, compromised.

The Lothians hospital was the subject of scrutiny two years ago after 140 patients were affected by the loss of a USB memory stick.

The administration at the hospital has said that the events of 2008 led to a review of data security policy and that the results of this review and the new procedures resulting from it can be seen in the diligence and scope of the search for the missing digital camera memory card.

The hospital now encrypts all of the data stored on portable devices, and staff are no longer allowed to use such devices for personal matters after an amnesty on the memory sticks was agreed.

Critics believe that the impact of the perceived loss has caused problems and delays for patients as staff searched needlessly for the device, but directors at the hospital have be keen to emphasise to the public the importance of diligence in the protection and recovery of any data that the hospital controls.

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