NHS patients believe that hospital chief executives and management should be held accountable for healthcare privacy protection and breaches.

According to a survey of 1,001 patients across the UK, 97 per cent say NHS managers should have a legal and ethical duty to protect their data; 90 per cent agree that where there are significant risks of privacy breaches, managers should take appropriate action to minimise or eliminate them.

Of those surveyed, 87 per cent felt that managers should be sacked or fined if they were aware of risks but failed to act upon them, leading to a serious breach; 73 per cent said better enforcement of rules and regulations would cut security breaches, while 56 per cent said existing laws are not adequately enforced.

Ted Boyle, specialist healthcare IT consultant and former systems administration and security manager at NHS Lothian, said: “It is vital for the future of the NHS that patient information can be freely exchanged between the clinicians. At the same time, patients have a right to expect that sensitive information about them will remain confidential.

“For this to happen, it is essential that advanced security systems are in place to monitor exactly who is accessing people's records in order to prevent patient data from being abused.”

Kurt Long, founder and CEO of FairWarning, which commissioned the survey, said: “Modern patient care is very much information-based. Any obstacle to the free flow of information between care providers and patients, such as those caused by privacy concerns, can prevent patients from receiving the best possible care.

“Patients across the UK have enormous faith in the NHS, but this survey reveals that more needs to be done for medical information to be shared and exchanged securely, and so to ensure the best patient outcomes.”