Patients known by numbers - not names

BEMUSED staff at hospitals in Colchester have been banned from using patients' names and told to use numbers instead.

James Hore

BEMUSED staff at hospitals in Colchester have been banned from using patients' names and told to use numbers instead.

Workers at Colchester General and Essex County hospitals have been warned they could face “serious disciplinary action” if they are caught discussing patients by name on the internal email system.

Last night, Bernard Jenkin, the MP for North Essex, warned the practice of numbers, rather than names, could potentially lead to a serious mix-up.

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Staff often use the Colchester hospitals' email account, which is not encrypted, when discussing patients' treatments and appointments with other departments.

Bosses at Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, are now cracking down on the practice and encouraging workers to sign up to an NHS net account, the national system which encrypts data.

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However, the EADT understands the practice of using names on the current and popular internal email system is being discouraged, with staff told to use patients' numbers instead if they are not signed up to the NHS net system.

A memo sent out by medical director Dr Marion Wood called for “vigilance” regarding patient-related data and issued a series of guidelines for staff.

She warned data pens and memory sticks are banned, because they are “easily lost”, while personal and patient data on laptops has to be encrypted.

The move came just weeks after a senior hospital manager's laptop, with thousands of patients' details, was stolen from his car while he holidayed in Scotland.

The laptop, which was not encrypted, was never recovered and last week the manager was sacked.

Peter Murphy, chief executive at Colchester, said the decision showed how seriously the trust takes security and patient confidentiality.

Mr Jenkin called for common sense to prevail last night.

He said: “This sounds daft to me. The mistake was allowing patients' records onto a laptop that was allowed off NHS premises.

“Using numbers depersonalises patients and the last thing the patients actually want is to be referred to as a number.

“It is tempting fate as sooner or later there will be a mix up as names mean far more than numbers to staff.”

Health campaigner Vickie Williams, from Dovercourt, backed Mr Jenkin's comments.

She said: “It feels as if you are losing your identity and at the end of the day when I ring the hospital I like to think I will be called by my name.

“They are frightened now because of the loss of the laptop, but that was one person and I do not see why the whole of the staff should be penalised.

“They just need to be careful and use common sense when using patients' names in correspondence, but a number - I don't want to be just a number.”

Dr Marion Wood, medical director at Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust, said: “The letter to staff is a reminder of procedures to ensure that patient information is managed in the correct way.

“It forms one of the trust's continuing steps to ensure patient confidentiality and security of data.

“The Colchester hospital generic e-mail account is unsecured, so it is fine for day to day communication between staff, but personal details that could identify a patient should not be sent via this route.

“We encourage those staff that need to share patient identifiable information electronically to use an account, the letter explains how to do this, to ensure that any such material is shared in a secure way.”

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