Page last updated at 06:42 GMT, Thursday, 4 September 2008 07:42 UK

Medics 'put patient data at risk'

Memory stick
Many doctors use memory sticks

Doctors are warning patient data is at risk after a snapshot poll of colleagues showed lapses in security.

Two unnamed doctors surveyed their colleagues at a top London hospital and found three quarters carried unsecured memory sticks with confidential data.

The two medics said the practices were likely to be similar elsewhere.

Hospital doctors routinely carry memory sticks containing names, diagnoses, X-rays and treatment details - but these should be protected by passwords.

The pair who carried out the survey spoke to 105 doctors at their hospital. In total, 92 held memory sticks with 79 of them containing confidential information.

This survey exposes the chaos inherent in Labour's approach to data security
Mike Penning, shadow health minister

Just five of those had passwords, the Health Service Journal reported.

Hospitals issue doctors with chip-and-pin cards to access NHS databases and patient records.

But doctors are increasingly relying on memory sticks to store data they would have traditionally written down in notebooks.

These contain information such as patient names and date of births, as well as medical information.

There are no specific rules about the practice, but the Department of Health guidance and data protection laws say patient data needs to be keep secure.

The survey comes after a series of security scandals have dogged the government in recent months.

An inquiry was launched last month after a computer memory stick containing information on thousands of criminals was lost.


In June documents relating to al-Qaeda in Pakistan and the security situation in Iraq were left on a train by a Cabinet Office intelligence official and later handed to the BBC.

And in November last year, Chancellor Alistair Darling admitted to MPs that computer discs holding personal information on 25m people and 7.2m families had gone missing.

The doctors, writing in the Health Service Journal, said the findings were "worrying".

They said: "Unless urgent action is taken it is surely only a matter of time before the NHS adds its name to the above headlines."

Shadow health minister Mike Penning said the government had a shocking record on data security.

"Patients rightly expect their personal details to be protected. Unfortunately, this survey exposes the chaos inherent in Labour's approach to data security."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "Any breach of patient security is unacceptable.

"We have urged the Health Service Journal to provide details of their survey to the relevant trust so they can take appropriate action to protect patient confidentiality."

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