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CONFIDENTIAL patient details are being left on old computers dumped in an open skip bin in a busy laneway at Royal Perth Hospital.

Personal information, including patient names and addresses, dates of birth, medical conditions and patient numbers, was accessed with ease by The Sunday Times this week.

Sources say up to 500 computers have been dumped there, pending collection, since November.

Sources also claimed computers had been sent to auction yards in the past without their hard drives wiped clean.

The hospital yesterday denied this, saying the computers were collected every day by contractors and taken to a scrapyard to be crushed – even though The Sunday Times has observed computers sitting in a bin for days.

Sources said it was frightening that the old computers might have been on-sold with confidential information still on them.

Workers at a second-hand computer business said they had received computers from RPH in the past. They said it was the previous user’s responsibility to clean information off hard drives.

“Generally, when the stuff is sent to auction, it’s all put on pallets, it’s consigned,” a worker said.

“A lot of times, the machines aren’t even turned on (by the auction yards)… they just get sold on.”

One of the hundreds of letters on computer files seen by The Sunday times gives the name, address, date of birth, patient number, and medical history and treatment details of a northern suburbs woman seen by a doctor in RPH’s Department of Hematology.

The Sunday Times expose follows a report released by the Auditor-General last month that said personal details of public servants, including salaries, some addresses and tax file numbers, were being released to the public when second-hand State Government computers were sold for as little as $2.

A hospital spokeswoman said RPH had a contract with a scrap metal company that crushed all hospital computers to ensure all data was destroyed.

“The only way to get a computer containing patient details is illegally,” she said.

Government sources tipped off The Sunday Times about the slack security because they were furious that patient’s personal information was left out in the open.

"I’d be outraged if it was my information or information about a loved one, out there for anyone to get a hold of,” one sources said.

“There’s got to be a policy against that happening.

“But usual in these times, they (the Health Department) will just be looking for the source of the information rather than trying to solve the problem”.

"(Health Minister Jim) McGinty’s famous for witchhunts”.

“Everyone’s just trying to save their own necks rather than looking after the patients”.

Opposition Leader Troy Buswell said: “It sends a chill down my spine that Jim McGinty’s mismanagement of the health system means people’s highly sensitive medical information is being left on computers that are left out in the open, or might be sold at auction.”

Mr McGinty refused to comment but West Australian police are investigating claims.

                               - August 12, 2008


Did You Know

arrow Identity theft is the top consumer complaint in the USA according to the Federal Trade Commission.

arrow US consumers reported fraud loss totalling more than $1.1 billion in 2006.

arrow Credit card fraud (25%) was the most common form of reported identity theft in the US in 2006.

arrow More than 100 000 people are affected by identity theft each year in the UK

arrow According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, more than 350 data loss incidents involving more than 140 million records have occurred since February 2005

arrow Organisations are obliged by law to take take adequate steps to ensure the proper disposal of data

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