Monday, 19 May 2008

38,000 NHS Records Lost

Poor old Gordon Brown-Trousers must dread the morning papers. Well, actually, in this 24-hour, rolling-news society, he must live in constant fear and dread of newspapers, TV, radio and, of course, the internet.

Today's disaster comes in the shape of a report in the Sun, to the effect that the medical records of no less than 38,000 NHS patients have been lost. The records were on a CD that was sent from London to Sandown Medical Centre on the Isle of Wight, via City Link private courier.

The missing records include details of drinking habits, sexual diseases and disabilities, and there are fears that patients could be left open to blackmail if the information gets out.

Not unaware of the significance of the loss, which comes hot on the heels of a series of losses, including the disappearance of 25 million people's records on a lost HM Revenue and Customs CD last year, Gordon Brown-Trousers is said to be "fuming".

And I just bet he is, too. Would you, now, trust your confidential details to a National Health Service that can't even keep track of a damn CD, let alone secure servers from unauthorised access? In reality, of course, I have absolutely no doubt that this kind of loss - and losses on a much greater scale - happen all the time, and have been happening for years, if not decades.

Ever since information technology made it possible to cram hundreds, or thousands, of records onto an object small enough to be popped into an envelope, wrongly addressed and dropped into the post, you can bet that our private details have been turning up in dead letter offices all over the country - and that's only the best-case scenario!

This is not what Gordon Brown-Trousers and the overpaid clowns behind the National Programme for IT want to hear, of course, and it's certainly not what they want us to SAY. They want us all firmly behind the idea that computerising our medical records is the way to go, that nothing can go wrong, it's safe as houses and anyone who disagrees is a paranoid Luddite.

Well, I'm sorry, but I don't agree. I do not want my medical records to be stored on this, or any other, database, either now or in the future. Yes, I know all about the advantages - I work with computers and data all day, every day, and I'm fully alongside what they can do for me. I'm also well aware of the potential risks involved in such a system, and I judge them to far outweigh the advantages.

Take the current fiasco as an example. You need to make copies of 38,000 electronic NHS patient records? No problem! Just burn them on to a CD and the whole lot will fit in your pocket, to be lost at your convenience. You just try doing that with paper-based records - you'd need a pretty big pocket to take 38,000 of those little brown A5 envelopes, wouldn't you?

It's a shambles, a disaster and, worst of all, it's a taste of things to come. Even if the missing CD turns up today, or tomorrow (and I'd say there's a fair chance it, or something suspiciously like it, will) what proof do those patients have that the data hasn't been copied already? Medical histories aren't like bank accounts. You can't just change your details and assume that you're safe again - once you've had a sexual disease, you have always had it, and if that information gets into the wrong hands you could be in trouble.

This unfortunate event should be the final proof, if any were needed, that the whole online records scheme is an enormous mistake that isn't just waiting to happen, but is already happening. But that doesn't matter to Gordon Brown-Trousers - to him, it's just one more public humiliation, one more disaster to be smoothed over.

And, after all, why should he care? The NPfIT is so far behind schedule that there's no way he'll still be Prime Minister when all its chickens come home to roost - he'll be lucky if he's still PM next week, at this rate!

Billy Seggars.

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