WEST Middlesex Hospital has defended itself against claims the number of clerical staff with access to confidential medical records leaves the system open to abuse.
A total of 346 non-medical employees at the hospital, in Twickenham Road, Isleworth, are able to view potentially sensitive patient data, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Big Brother Watch.
In a report published this week, the privacy campaign group claimed there are more than 100,000 such staff with similar access rights at acute trusts across the country, an average of 723 per trust.
Alex Deane, director of the organisation, said: "The number of non-medical personnel with access to confidential medical records leaves the system wide open for abuse. Whilst Big Brother Watch has considered emergency, necessity and practicality concerns, we believe it is necessary to drastically reduce the number of people with access to medical records to prevent the high rate of data loss experienced by the NHS.
"The Government needs urgently to address the dire state of security around our medical history before it rolls out the Summary Care Record, granting access to hundreds of thousands of additional NHS staff across England."
However, bosses at West Mid insisted the NHS would be unable to function if non-medical staff were not allowed to access patient records in a 'strictly controlled way'.
A spokesman said access to such information is closely monitored, with passwords only issued to staff after 'rigorous' training in data protection and security. He added that the system is regularly audited to ensure patient data is safeguarded.
Non-medical staff can only access patients' records when directed to by clinical staff, for example to organise an appointment or collect a case note from the records library.
A Department of Health spokesman described the report as 'awash with inaccuracies' and said storing records electronically made it easier to trace and deal with any abuse of the system.