Bury St Edmunds: Watchdog slams West Suffolk Hospital over rising numbers of confidentiality breaches

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Archant

A privacy watchdog has hit out at West Suffolk Hospital after it emerged that breaches of patient confidentiality at the hospital are on the rise.

Figures obtained by the EADT show there have been 20 recorded breaches at the hospital since 2010, ranging from records that were incorrectly filed or posted through to staff disclosing inappropriate information.

Two people have been disciplined and dismissed over the breaches of confidentiality, and the hospital claimed the number of incidents was small considering the “vast quantities of data” it handled every day.

However, Big Brother Watch director Nick Pickles said the hospital was not doing enough.

He added: “The information held in medical records is of huge personal significance, and for details to be wrongly disclosed, maliciously accessed or lost represents serious infringements on patient privacy.

“The fact that only a tiny fraction of staff are ever reprimanded or dismissed brings into question how seriously managers take protecting the privacy of patients.

“Despite having access to increasing amounts of data and being responsible for even more services, the NHS is simply not able to say our personal information is safe with them.”

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Last year seven breaches were recorded - the highest number yet. All these breaches happened as a result of misfiled records or misdirected post, with personal data sent to the wrong person on four occasions.

There were five breaches in 2010, including one where records were taken off-site without consent. This was followed by four breaches in both 2011 and 2012.

Mr Pickles added: “The fact that the number of cases of West Suffolk hospital sending information to the wrong person has increased is clearly worrying, and the hospital is simply not doing enough to ensure confidential patient information is protected.

“Some might say only a small number of people are affected, but if your medical records were one of those compromised, the impact can be huge.”

Each incident is investigated by the hospital’s information governance manager, with a root-cause analysis carried out if it is deemed serious.

A spokesman for West Suffolk Hospital said: “We manage vast quantities of data every day, and take the security of all the information we hold extremely seriously. As such, we are pleased that only a very small number of incidents have taken place over the past few years.

“However, we are always looking for ways to further improve. We regularly remind our staff of best practice and the importance of protecting confidential data, learn from breaches which have happened in other organisations and use encrypted computer software to protect electronic information.

“We also encourage our staff to report any potential breaches, however minor, so that we can make further improvements wherever necessary.”