Student's flimsy bin bags blamed for latest NHS data breach

Confidential patient information found by member of the public

A data protection gaffe affecting the UK's NHS is being pinned on a medical student who placed too much trust in their bin bags.

An investigation was launched following the discovery of confidential medical data sprawled across a back alley in Jesmond, a pricier suburb of Newcastle in the North East of England.

The medical student is thought to have thrown the documents into their domestic waste, which was placed outside for collection, but through one means or another, the documents escaped to the freedom of an alleyway off Lonsdale Terrace only to be found by a passerby.

Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust (CNTW) said it was confident that the documents were recovered.

It's understood that the documents and data belonged to at least two patients and included a letter sent to a patient's doctor marked "Private and Confidential." The information included personal and sensitive details about the patients.

The trust's deputy chief executive and executive medical director said the matter is considered closed and those affected have been contacted.

Dr Rajesh Nadkarni, told The Reg: "A medical student on placement with CNTW was in possession of confidential clinical information in the course of their placement work. We were subsequently informed by a member of the public that they found this information among household waste.

"A full investigation has been completed, and we are assured that all of the confidential information held by the medical student has been recovered. We have been in contact with those affected by this breach of confidentiality, and are providing them with updates on the outcomes of this investigation.

"All medical students receive training on information governance, and students on placement with CNTW attend an induction and receive an information pack which stresses the importance of confidentiality, and our policies and processes which support this.

"We will ensure that the learning we gain from this investigation is acted on to improve our services. It is vital that people feel confident that their information is protected and handled appropriately at all times by us, and we will ensure that we learn from this incident to continue to do so for our communities."

We also asked if the student would face any punishment, but the trust wouldn't comment.

Although it certainly can't be considered the most catastrophic breach the NHS has ever experienced, it's probably not the memory any student would want to leave behind at a potential future employer while on a work experience placement.

But the incident will almost certainly be raised as an amusing anecdote when delivering data governance training for at least the next few years. ®

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