Medical records of 5,400 patients have been stolen from a doctors' surgery in Downpatrick, Co Down
The break-in happened at the surgery of Drs Hannah and McGoldrick at Pound Lane over the Christmas period.
A PSNI spokesman last night confirmed detectives are investigating a break-in at the Pound Lane surgery in which two computer hard disk drives and a number of DVDs with back-up copies of records were stolen.
One concerned patient said: “I used to be registered with the surgery but changed to another practice when I moved to Belfast.
“I was travelling to Africa and needed information about my previous inoculations so I contacted the surgery and was told they didn’t have the information I needed because of what happened to the records.
“It is extremely worrying to think people have access to my personal details.”
However, chairman of the British Medical Association Northern Ireland IT sub committee, Dr Jimmy Courtney, moved to allay fears by explaining the information is encrypted.
“I would like to reassure patients it would be very unlikely anyone would be able to access the information so it would not be of any value to the people who stole the files,” he said.
And the Health and Social Care Board, which has been working with staff at the practice to restore as many of the records as possible, also said it is unlikely anyone would be able to access the information held on the files.
“Information on the drives is protected by a number of separate security features which make it extremely unlikely that thieves could access it, even with specialist computing knowledge and equipment,” a Board spokesman said.
“Information on the back-up DVDs is encrypted to the international Advanced Encryption Standard AES 256, making it almost impossible to access.”
The practice has contacted patients by letter to advise them of the steps being taken and how they can help in having their records restored as soon as possible.
The surgery and the Board have been working since the break-in to establish whether the stolen information could be retrieved or recovered from other sources.
However, they said this has not proved possible but Dr Courtney said he believed there will be minimal impact on patient care.