Page last updated at 17:58 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2008

'Private and confidential'

Seven BBC Scotland journalists have been warned their medical files could have been accessed inappropriately by a doctor in Fife.

BBC Scotland's home affairs correspondent Reevel Alderson received a letter from NHS Fife.

Reevel Alderson
Reevel Alderson said he will not be losing sleep over the possible breach

I nearly didn't open the manila envelope which was waiting on the mat as I arrived home last night.

It was franked with an NHS message urging me to ensure my babies are immunised: my younger daughter is 27 and can look after herself.

Then I noticed the stamp announcing: "Strictly Private and Confidential."

I read the letter inside, signed by the chief executive and medical director of Fife NHS Board which carried an apology that a doctor employed by the NHS in the Kingdom may have accessed part of my electronic clinical record.

Now, this was potentially worrying: yet another theft of personal data. But what data?

It was my Emergency Care Summary, basic details about me which can be accessed if I need emergency medical help in an A&E unit, or out-of-hours.

I read with care the accompanying leaflet, published by the Scottish Executive in 2006, explaining such records are held for all of us - and they can't be read by anyone outwith the NHS.

The data includes my name, age and address as well as any current drug prescriptions I have and any allergies to medication.

'Vital stuff'

This is all pretty vital stuff for any clinician who might have to treat me urgently, and I am happy a system exists to allow safe medical care to be administered.

However, I share a general scepticism that the greater amount of personal data which are centrally held, the greater the chance of them being lost, stolen, hacked into or accessed by lonely or bored computer geeks.

Much of the information held about me in my Emergency Care Summary is either trivial - my age (I am 56); easily accessible anyway - my address (it is on the electoral register); or boring - along with large numbers of men of my age, I take statin tablets for high cholesterol. Oh, and I have no medical allergies.

So the fact that someone has apparently accessed these details will not cause me to lose any sleep.

I bin junk mail which comes to me using other data about me which has been sold commercially by companies who I have traded with, and see no real problem in this apparent misuse of my information.

What does concern me is that as we look towards more sensitive personal information being collected centrally by the state with ID cards possibly around the corner, data security is lagging well behind the technology used to collate and disseminate it.

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