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GPs to face £5,000 fine if laptop stolen

GPs face the prospect of being fined up to £5,000 if their laptops containing confidential patient care records are stolen from their vehicles.

Leaving laptops with patient data in their cars was tantamount to breaking data protection principles and should attract criminal punishment, an influential parliamentary body was told.

Giving evidence to the Lords' Constitution Committee, Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, said: ‘If a doctor or hospital [employee] leaves a laptop containing patients' records in his car and it is stolen, it is hard to see that is anything but gross negligence.'

The move has caused fierce debate among GPs.

Dr Trefor Roscoe, a GP in Sheffield and GPC committee member supported the motion, and said: ‘It is possible to have your records virtually unreadable, but the sort of person who would leave a laptop in a car is not the sort of person who would have the latest encryption technology on it.

‘Carrying around patient identifiable data is as important as having a great big box of medicine in your car – you shouldn't take data around in a form that could be lost or stolen.'

But Dr Andrew Cole, a locum practising in the north of Eng-land said that a laptop was crucial to a GP's job. He said that the billions of pounds spent on the national data spine would be ‘wasted' if GPs were finically deterred from carrying laptops. ‘Charging us £5,000 for tapping into that spine is going to prevent us from everyone, not just locums, doing our jobs prop-erly.

‘If they don't want us to be able to access patient records at work, on the roadside or in a patient's bedroom, the Government has wasted its money,' he said.

But, Dr Christopher Hanbury, a GP from East London said keeping patient information was ‘too high a risk'. He said GPs should print out relevant information before going on home visits. ‘Everyone is against GPs at the moment, it's just one more excuse to allow people to bash us and storing information on laptops or, taking PDAs out on house calls makes us too vulnerable to criticism,' he said.

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