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Abuse Fears Over Access To Patients' Records - SKY News

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Abuse Fears Over Access To Patients' Records - SKY News
Posted on: April 16 2010, 11:04 am

Figures acquired by Big Brother Watch reveal hospital receptionists, housekeepers and even porters are able to access the confidential records without permission.

On average, 723 non-medical staff in each NHS trust surveyed have direct access to private health records.

Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust employ the highest number of non-medical personnel with access at 2,487 staff.

Twenty-eight percent of trusts were unable to respond to requests for figures which were obtained using the Freedom of Information Act.

Alex Deane from Big Brother Watch said: "The number of non-medical personnel with access to confidential medical records leaves the system wide open for abuse.

"Whilst Big Brother Watch has considered emergency, necessity and practicality concerns, we believe it is necessary to drastically reduce the number of people with access to medical records to prevent the high rate of data loss experienced by the NHS."

Health authorities that fail to protect records from staff not involved in patient care are likely to be in breach of the Human Rights Act, according to a ruling by the European court in Strasbourg in 2008.

The case concerned a female nurse who was HIV positive, who started work at a hospital in Finland. After three years, her contract at the hospital was cancelled.

It was later discovered colleagues had been secretly looking at her records and discovered her HIV status. The hospital was ordered to pay 34,000 Euros in compensation and costs.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "This report is awash with inaccuracies and manage to claim quite falsely that detailed medical records will be shared nationally - they won't.

"The authors are also confused, muddling the distinction between paper files, which allow any member of staff to see confidential information, and new electronic systems which strictly control access to those directly involved in a patient's healthcare.

"We have made it very clear that it is completely unacceptable for staff with no involvement in providing and supporting patient care to access confidential information.

"We have set clear standards for NHS organisations to adhere to on data handling, and have issued guidance that sets out the steps they must take to ensure records are kept secure and confidential.

"Local NHS organisations are responsible for implementing these effective data handling processes, including which staff need to have access to health records, and for compliance with Information Governance standards.

"The report has a rare moment of insight when it admits that implementing the NPfIT will restrict the number of non-medical personnel who could access confidential information.

"With the modernisation of NHS IT, access to electronic records is controlled by smartcards which allows all access to be tracked and audited, so that unlike paper files, any abuse can be traced and dealt with. When managed properly it is not possible for an unauthorised member of staff to see clinical information."

The NHS has been at the centre of numerous data-loss scandals in recent years.

In 2009, the Information Commissioner ordered an investigation after it was revealed 140 security breaches had been recorded across the service.

One of the more serious was the loss of medical details of 160,000 children by City and Hackney Primary Care Trust after a computer disc was lost on its way to St Leonard's Hospital, east London.

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