An NHS laptop containing the medical records of over eight million patients has gone missing from a storeroom at the North Central London Strategic Health Authority, in what could be one of the biggest data breaches of its kind.
The laptop went missing several weeks ago but has only just been reported to police, although it is still not known whether the machine was stolen or simply lost, according to The Sun.
The data is believed to be password protected but unencrypted. The information does not contain patient names, but does include personally identifiable and sensitive information such as postcode, gender, age and medical history.
The NHS has been one of the worst offenders when it comes to data breaches, and was responsible for roughly a quarter of all incidents reported to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) last year.
However, it has improved "pretty dramatically", according to former ICO head of enforcement Mick Gorrill, who told V3.co.uk last month that the health service is getting to grips with data protection.
Chris McIntosh, chief executive at encryption firm ViaSat UK, argued that the North Central London Strategic Health Authority cannot claim ignorance of the dangers of data loss given the huge amount of media coverage over recent breaches, including the Sony hack.
"It is to be hoped that the ICO acts swiftly and decisively to pass a strong message in this case and that, more importantly, the data on the laptop doesn't end up in the wrong hands," he said.
"If it does, innocent members of the public could find extremely sensitive, personal information that should have been strictly confidential being used against them."
The ICO said that it is making enquiries "to establish the full facts of this alleged data breach".
The organisation recently issued a fine of £120,000 to Surrey County Council, its largest to date, for sending personal information to the wrong email addresses, as it seeks to clamp down on lax data protection procedures within organisations.
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