SIXTEEN workers at the Great Western Hospital have been dismissed or disciplined in the past two years for breaching data protection rules.

Eight members of staff were sacked between 2008 and 2010 for accessing patients’ personal information without permission and a further eight were disciplined by hospital bosses.

The figures were revealed in a report by Big Brother Watch, which showed GWH is one of the worst performing hospitals during 2008-10.

The research conducted by the privacy campaign group showed that a total of 91 incidents across the country involved staff looking up details of colleagues, while 23 incidents involved patient information being posted on social networking sites.

Dr Alf Troughton, medical director at GWH, said the figures proved that the Trust was committed to having processes in place to dismiss people should they breach date protection rules.

He said: “We take patient confidentiality issues very seriously and only those people who are directly involved with a patient’s care or its administration should access health records.

“We also do not allow staff to inappropriately access their own or their family records. If we find there has been a breach we always investigate and take action.

“The figures showing the dismissals that have taken place over a three-year period demonstrate that the measures we have in place to monitor access to patient records are working and that we will action when necessary.

“It should be emphasised that the vast majority of staff adhere to the rules around access to information and we regularly remind them of their responsibilities including the potential consequences if patient confidentiality is breached.

“Patients have to believe that we can be trusted with their personal information or they will not feel able to give us all the information we need to make good diagnoses and give effective treatment.”

But Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said the research highlighted that the NHS was not doing enough to ensure confidential patient information is protected.

“The information held in medical records is of huge personal significance and for details to be disclosed, maliciously accessed or lost and these cases represents serious infringements on patient privacy,” he said.

“As the summary care record scheme is rolled out and an increasing number of people have access to private patient information, urgent action is needed to ensure that we can be sure our medical records are safe. It is essential the NHS is transparent about these incidents and failing or refusing to disclose that a data breach has taken place is unacceptable.”

In contrast, NHS Swindon had two dismissals in the same time period for accessing personal information and NHS Wiltshire had none.