Data on Stolen GP Laptop Not Encrypted

A laptop containing confidential information about 11,000 patients has been stolen from a Midland GP’s home.

Contrary to Department of Health guidelines, the information was not encrypted, which would have made it unreadable without a special code to unscramble it.

The laptop was among items stolen in a recent burglary at the home of the unnamed doctor, who works at the Castlecroft Medical Practice in Wolverhampton.

The information on the computer, which belongs to the practice, included patients’ names, dates of birth, addresses, contact details and confidential medical records. The practice has written to all of its 11,000 patients to inform them that information about them was on the stolen computer.

Dr Peter Wagstaff, senior partner at the practice, said: “The practice is treating this issue very seriously and we are extremely sorry for any distress or concern that it may cause our patients.

“Though not encrypted, the confidential information on the laptop was protected by a complex password system, which only a person with specialist computer knowledge would be able to crack.”

He said the laptop appeared to have been stolen for its resale value, rather than for any information stored upon it. Jon Crockett, chief executive ofWolverhampton City Primary Care Trust, said the trust was “extremely concerned” about the theft.

He said: “Patients and the public have the right to expect that those dealing with confidential information maintain the highest levels of security and we are carrying out a full and urgent investigation into this incident.”

He said that the practice had believed that the laptop was encrypted, but it later found “this was not the case”.

National guidance from the Department of Health is that any confidential information about patients must be stored in a safe and secure environment, and mobile devices, including laptops, which contain such data must be fully protected by encryption, he explained.

Mr Crockett said: “We are investigating all aspects of this incident to understand how it happened, what action we might take and how to prevent anything similar occurring in the future.

“All GP practices in the city have been reminded of their responsibility for the safety and security of data held by their practices.”

He added: “We are very conscious that the GP whose home was burgled, and the practice as a whole, are the victims of a crime.”

Staffordshire Police are investigating the burglary and a helpline – 0800 783 4310 – has been set up by the practice for patients to ring if they have any concerns.

The news broke as Scotland Yard said six laptops have been stolen from a major teaching hospital.

The laptops contain information about some 20,000 patients, including their names, date of birth and postcodes, a spokeswoman for St George’s Hospital, in Tooting, south London, said.

She said: “The Trust has written today to every patient, apologising for the potential risk to their confidentiality.”

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