Scale of NHS data loss studied

In-depth analysis of reports relating to data loss from within the NHS has found that, on average, the personal details of over 800 patients go missing every single day over the course of the year.

The Daily Mail conducted a study of the many different data loss scandals that have damaged the reputation of the health service in recent times and concluded that the loss and theft of data from the NHS is reaching catastrophic levels.

Data loss has occurred within a number of NHS organisations and trusts, with scandals occurring when unencrypted portable storage are left in public places or stolen from employees’ vehicles and homes, as well as discarded documents being taken from skips after being improperly disposed of.

The NHS is currently working on centralising a database of medical records for all patients in the UK, but many are concerned about its ability to safely handle data given the ongoing data loss incidents spanning a number of years.

Privacy campaigner Alex Deane claimed that the NHS had proved itself to be unable to properly protect the personal information for which it is responsible and, as such, the creation of a significant central patient data vault would be unwise.

In the 12 months from April 2009, the NHS was responsible for the loss of data relating to over 300,000 separate patients, putting the daily average at 835, although the Mail points out that the actual figure could be far greater because many NHS managers were unable to determine the precise figures in each data loss incident.

Katherine Murphy, head of the Patients’ Association, said that she was frustrated by the frequency with which the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) publicly criticises the NHS for data loss without resulting in alterations to its practices and preventing further exposure of personal details.

The creation of a centralised database for NHS patient records might seem potentially hazardous to some, but others appreciate that by eliminating the key causes of data loss in the NHS, namely the physical files and portable storage devices, it should be possible to tighten data security and prevent further loss.

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