NHS loses records of 8 million patients on just one laptop

Someone has performed a laptopectomy on the NHS, as a batch of computers have vanished with records on more than 8 million patients.

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Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Someone has performed a laptopectomy on the NHS. A batch of computers have gone missing from a London health authority, with just one of the computers containing records on more than 8 million patients.

Twenty laptops were lost in what the super soar-away Sun calls the "biggest-ever security breach of its kind". The laptops vanished from a storeroom at London Health Programmes, a medical research organisation based within the NHS North Central London health authority.

The data on the laptop was protected by password but not encrypted. Schoolboy error! The patient records do not contain names, but do show postcodes, age, ethnic origin and details of over 18 million hospital visits.

A spokesperson for the health authority explained, "One of the machines was used for analysing health needs requiring access to elements of unnamed patient data," which is why just one machine contained records on 8.63 million patients.

The Sun also claims each laptop was worth £10,000, which surely can't be right -- what are they made of, unicorn horn?

The computers went missing three weeks ago but the theft has only just been reported to police. The Information Commissioner is also on the case.

After all the recent online hacks highlighting how poorly companies such as Sony and Nintendo protect our data, this is a refreshingly old-fashioned data breach. We love the good old NHS but it doesn't have a great record on data security: our muckers at ZDNet UK report that last year the NHS reported 165 security breaches to the Information Commissioner's Office.

It's at times like this that the hapless Health Authority could use laptop-locating app Hidden or Find My Mac, a forthcoming feature from Apple. Find My Mac locks laptops and only lets thieves log on to the Internet -- at which point the system zeroes in on the unwitting tea-leaf's location.