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Concern as personal data of 284 diabetic patients breached at NHS Highland

NHS Highland.
NHS Highland.

A data breach at NHS Highland has led to the personal information of 284 patients with diabetes being shared with more than 30 people.

The error, which occurred on Tuesday November 17, led to the names, dates of births, contact information and hospital identification numbers of the patients being revealed.

The information had been stored in a spreadsheet and included recorded notes of when patients attended or were offered training.

NHS Highland referred itself to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over the incident the following day and has contacted patients affected via a letter.

No personal information relating to medical history was shared.

One patient whose details were breached said: “I have significant concerns with how NHS Highland has handled this.

“As a public sector organisation, you expect much stricter controls on information handling.

“The letter they have sent does not suggest a high degree of ownership of the problem.

“Knowing there have been previous incidents similar to this does not fill me with great confidence.

“It is disappointing.”

In June 2018, an email blunder led to the names and email addresses of 37 patients with HIV being revealed by NHS Highland, which the health board later apologised for. 

In a letter to victims of the latest breach, David Park, deputy chief executive of NHS Highland said that “regrettably” a data security incident that involves personal patient data had occurred offering his “most sincere apologies”.

He continued: “We deeply regret that this incident occurred” adding that a review of internal controls is being undertaken to “reduce the risk of this happening in the future”.

Individuals who received the excel spreadsheet containing the confidential information are being requested to delete the file by the health board with confirmation sought that the process has been followed through.

Pam Dudek, NHS Highland’s chief executive said: “NHS Highland has directly contacted all of the patients affected by this data breach to apologise unreservedly.

“We have reported the incident to the Information Commissioner and are holding an investigation into this matter.

“31 people were sent information of a patient list of 284 people including contact details and date of birth.

“No medical information was included other than the name of the clinic.”

An ICO spokeswoman said: “We have been made aware of an incident by NHS Highland and will be looking into the details.

“All organisations have a duty to protect the personal information in their care.”

Regional MSP David Stewart has written to NHS Highland’s chief executive Pam Dudek regarding the data breach after being contacted by a patient involved.

He said: “Data and confidential information of national health service patients must be treated in the strictest confidence by those handling it.

“I am aware that there is tremendous pressure on front-line staff, not only on nurses and clinical staff, but on administration staff, due to the pandemic.

“However, this is serious and the second time in 17 months that an NHS Highland data breach has been raised with me.

“The last time I asked the First Minister, in the Scottish Parliament, about a breach involving HIV patients she admitted that ‘clearly there had been failings’ and the safeguarding of patient data was ‘of the utmost importance’.

“I believe the Information Commission has been informed of this latest breach and I hope that reassurances can be given once and for all that systems have been changed to stop this happening again.”

Back in July, the health board lodged an investigation after a bag containing Covid-19 tests was found at the side of a Highland road.

Man describes shock at finding Covid-19 samples in middle of road in Highlands