Broken Records: 100,000 hospital administrators, porters and IT staff able to access confidential medical records

New research conducted by Big Brother Watch reveals that there are at least 100,000 non-medical personnel in NHS Trusts across the country with access to confidential medical records

Top lines from the research (the full report with a complete breakdown of the number of non-medical personnel in each NHS Trust is available here) include:

  • There are at least 101,272 non-medical personnel working in NHS Acute Trusts in Britain that have access to confidential medical records. On average, 723 staff not involved in direct patient care in each Trust have access to medical records.
  • Sandwell and West Birmingham is the Trust in England with the highest number of non-medical personnel with access with 2487. Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust is the second highest nationwide and the highest in Wales with 2046. Belfast Health and Social Care Trust is the highest in Northern Ireland with 1812 and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, with approximately 1300, the highest in Scotland.
  • Only 72% of Trusts in Great Britain and Northern Ireland were able to answer our request, the failure of the rest demonstrates the slack security and monitoring around those with access to patient medical histories. The final figure could therefore be much higher and could be as high as 140,000 personnel nationwide, extrapolating the average to cover the country as a whole.
  • From the responses received, in certain NHS Trusts access to confidential medical records is provided to hospital porters, IT staff and those working in the finance department.
  • The NHS is in direct contravention of the European Court of Human Rights, whose 2008 judgement I v. Finland established a legal duty to restrict medical records only to those directly involved in personal care.

Research conducted by Big Brother Watch has revealed that there are at least 101,272 non-medical personnel with access to confidential medical records in 140 NHS Acute Trusts in Britain and Northern Ireland. Fifty-four Trusts (predominantly the larger ones) failed to provide an answer to our Freedom of Information request, suggesting that the final figure could be as high as 140,000 NHS workers who are able to access records but are not directly involved in patient care.

Access to confidential patient records in the NHS is largely unregulated and fluctuates depending on staff turnover, access to the computer network and changing security clearance. There is a general lack of security around medical records which both ignores the ECHR judgement I v Finland and has, in the past decade, resulted in regular cases of abuse and security breaches. The report – Broken Records -  is an analysis of the status of confidential medical records in the UK, the security around access to sensitive personal information and how the Government’s NPfIT and the Conservatives' private sector proposals could change the current situation for the worse.

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, said:

“The number of non-medical personnel with access to confidential medical records leaves the system wide open for abuse. Whilst Big Brother Watch has considered emergency, necessity and practicality concerns, we believe it is necessary to drastically reduce the number of people with access to medical records to prevent the high rate of data loss experienced by the NHS. The Government needs urgently to address the dire state of security around our medical history before it rolls out the Summary Care Record, granting access to hundreds of thousands of additional NHS staff across England.”

To read the full report, which includes detailed information on every local authority, please click here.