Patients put off treatment due to NHS data breaches
13 October 2011
NHS patients across the country may withhold information from their doctors and put off treatment if they have fears over confidentiality and data breaches, new research has indicated.
The NHS has one of the highest rates of breaking UK data laws, with regular data breaches reported by the Information Commissioner's Office and millions of patients records lost or mishandled during 2011 alone.
Now, a survey of just over 1,000 patients has shown that well over half either have withheld information or would withhold information from clinicians and nearly 40 per cent have or would put off seeking treatment if a hospital had a poor reputation for security.
Concern for personal data was so high that 37 per cent of the respondents said they would travel 30 miles or more to avoid being treated at a hospital they didn't trust, just so they could keep their sensitive information confidential.
More than 87 per cent of people said chief executives and senior management should be sacked or fined over serious data breaches if they were aware of risks but failed to act.
The survey from healthcare privacy auditing solutions firm FairWarning also showed patients wanted a national league table for hospital data security. It revealed that the majority of patients believed a serious data breach could do "severe" damage to a hospital's reputation. And it showed that many patients were concerned about their data being used by criminals.
"It is vital for the future of the NHS that patient information can be freely exchanged between the clinicians," said Ted Boyle a specialist healthcare IT consultant and former systems administration and security manager at NHS Lothian.
"At the same time patients have a right to expect that sensitive information about them will remain confidential.
"For this to happen it is essential that advanced security systems are in place to monitor exactly who is accessing people's records in order to prevent patient data from being abused."
Data breaches in the NHS have become so regular that Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has warned of a "systemic" problem. He met with NHS chief Sir David Nicholson to address the matter in August.
Gerald NHS. The research does indicate that patients "have" already done this. To quote in full:
"Nearly four in 10 said they have, or would, put off seeking treatment, and well over half, have or would withhold information from clinicians, if a hospital had a poor reputation for security".