UK Information Commissioner slams NHS for lost USB stick

Unencrypted USB stick on train prompts censure

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has found East & North Hertfordshire NHS Trust in breach of the Data Protection Act after an unencrypted USB stick containing patient data was lost on a train.

A junior doctor had used the USB to record brief details of patients’ conditions and medication, and was supposed to hand it to the next doctor on shift.

However, the doctor accidentally took the USB key home, intending to forward the data on electronically, but lost the device, and a wallet, on a train.

The USB stick has not been recovered, despite the doctor informing the Trust immediately after discovering the loss.

A full investigation was launched, and enquiries by the ICO revealed that the junior doctor had not been aware of the Trust’s data protection policies. He also did not have access to email to receive policy reminders and updates.

The ICO also found that the Trust’s existing policies on the use of personal USB keys were not clear, and no technical measures were in place to prevent misuse of portable devices.

Nick Carver, chief executive of East & North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, has signed an undertaking to ensure that the Trust’s policies on portable devices are clear and communicated to all staff. Training will also be provided to all staff who have access to personal information.

Mick Gorrill, head of enforcement at the ICO, said: “Storing sensitive personal data on unencrypted data sticks is a risk trusts should not be willing to take. If it is vital to store information for handover, this must be done with the highest security measures in place.

“Furthermore, it is vital that employees are fully aware of processes which could have prevented this incident from occurring.”

Yorkshire Building Society was recently found in breach of the Data Protection Act after an unencrypted laptop was stolen from its premises.

The ICO has previously revealed that the NHS is the worst culprit for data breaches.

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