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Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust breached the Data Protection Act by accidentally destroying 10,000 archived records, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said today.

The records – which should have been kept in a dedicated storage area – were put in a disposal room due to lack of space. The records were then mistakenly removed from the room and destroyed between the 28 and 31 December 2010. The hospital failed to realise that the information was missing for three months.

The Trust has been unable to establish how many of the records would have contained personal information – the majority of which would have been several years old. Some records included the names and addresses of former patients and some staff, and a limited amount of medical information relating to the patients’ previous treatment. The Trust has confirmed that the loss of these records does not pose a clinical risk to data subjects affected by this incident.

The ICO has today ordered the Trust to take action to ensure its staff are made aware of data protection polices and procedures and that they receive suitable training on how to follow them. The Trust will also regularly monitor their staff to make sure policies are being correctly followed.

Acting Head of Enforcement, Sally Anne Poole, said:

“Although the majority of information lost was several years old and only being kept for archiving purposes, there is no excuse for failing to keep it secure. The hospital should have ensured that the records were kept in a safe area – and, had they had adequate audit trails in place, they would have been able to keep track of where this information was at all times.”

Jonathan Bamford, the ICO’s Head of Strategic Liaison, is today delivering a keynote speech at the Healthcare, Technology and Innovation exhibition in London. He will stress that the health sector needs to do more to protect sensitive patient data, making sure healthcare workers implement vital safeguards in practice. The ICO has an exhibition stand at the conference and staff will be on hand to offer delegates support and advice on information rights issues.

A further undertaking has also been signed by Poole NHS Trust after two diaries – containing information relating to the care of 240 midwifery patients – were stolen from a nurse’s car. The diaries included patients’ names, addresses and details of previous visits and were used by the nurse during out of hours duty.