Health Service Focus

02.12.16

Tackling old and new threats to data security

Source: NHE Nov/Dec 16

Andrew Rose, senior policy officer at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), discusses what actions NHS organisations can do to improve their data security compliance.

Cyber-attacks are a growing concern in the NHS, but the majority of data security breaches are still down to manual issues, according to the ICO. 

Recently the regulator released its data security incident and trends statistics for Q1 in 2016-17, which, once again, showed that the health sector continued to account for the most data security incidents. 

Andrew Rose, senior policy officer at the ICO, noted that this is due to the combination of the NHS making it mandatory to report incidents, the size of the health sector, and the sensitivity of the data processed. 

However, the latest data saw a 26% increase in the number of data security incidents in the health sector compared to the previous quarter (from 184 in Q4 2015-16 to 232 in Q1 2016-17). 

Asked what the main incidents were, Rose explained that the top three included data being posted or faxed to the wrong recipient; loss or theft of paperwork; and data being sent by email to the incorrect recipient. 

“A lot of these incidents could be avoided,” he said, adding that improving training is one of the big issues that have come out of a number of its enforcements. 

“I think that organisations need to make sure it [training] is happening and is relevant to the job role if they can,” explained Rose. “It doesn’t mean designing a course for every department, but it should be something that is a little bit more nuanced than e-learning once a year. It also shouldn’t be done once and forgotten.” 

Earlier this year, Dame Fiona Caldicott’s review recommended that the CQC should integrate measures for compliance with updated data security standards into their ‘Well-Led Inspections’ regime. This is a move that the regulator is taking forward.

Rose added that the CQC picking up on information governance in its inspection regime “should help enforce the fact that this stuff needs to happen. You need to record that the training is happening”. 

The ICO policy officer added that NHS organisations must also look at the policies and procedures they have in place. If you think about things being sent to the wrong recipient, Rose said, is that the fact that someone has not been trained or isn’t there a procedure in place for them to follow.Although the regulator produces a lot of advice and guidance, which helps NHS organisations understand what the issues are in terms of data and helps them with the questions to ask, Rose noted that it won’t help them with what solutions need to be put in place. 

“That is where CareCERT comes in, and they have the link with the National Cyber Security Centre,” he said. “That should be a key route to support. 

“I think that is where NHS organisations should get the expert advice from CareCERT, because they are set up and geared-up to provide that.” 

Despite there being an increased threat of cyber-attacks, especially Ransomware attacks against the NHS, which should not be neglected, Rose told NHE that as well as putting measures in place to mitigate these threats, the NHS must address the issue that the “majority of incidents still come down to manual errors”.

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