More bad news for the NHS

Posted by Ian Carpenter in Identity Theft on 17 July 2013 - Ian is Operations Director at checkmyfile

The NHS is having a bad time at the moment. Press attention on its shortcomings, funding gaps and excess death rates are all causing a massive headache for trusts up and down the UK, so a massive data breach is particularly bad timing, if not unsurprising.

While the political parties continue to prod each other with accusations about who is responsible for various failings, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) reveals that it has fined NHS Surrey £200,000 for what it refers to as ‘one of the most serious’ data breaches it has seen - a second hand computer, containing detailed records of over 3,000 patients, was sold on eBay.

NHS data breaches are not uncommon of course, but the scale of this breach is staggering even by NHS standards. The trust used a data destruction company to dispose of old equipment, with 1,570 computers processed between 2010 and 2011. The company is unable to trace where any of these computers have ended up – more of these computers could turn up anywhere and at any time, it seems.

Stephen Eckersley from the ICO, explains, “The facts of this breach are truly shocking. NHS Surrey chose to leave an approved provider and handed over thousands of patients’ details to a company without checking that the information had been securely deleted. The result was that patients’ information was effectively being sold online. This breach is one of the most serious the ICO has witnessed and the penalty reflects the disturbing circumstances of the case."

Another NHS data breach is no shock and certainly not the last, but is particularly disappointing after dozens of similar breaches and fines in recent years. While public and press attention rightly focuses on the level of care provided, the NHS appears to be leaving data protection at the bottom of its priorities.

Ian Carpenter is Operations Director at checkmyfile, has a degree in Business Studies, and is a Graduate Member of the Institute of Credit Management. He can be contacted at ian.carpenter@checkmyfile.com

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