Saturday, 28 November 2015

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Confidential details left in open bin bags in council offices

Rubbish bags containing confidential documents have been left open in some council offices, a report has revealed.

Cumbria County Council photo
Ian Stewart

It found there was nowhere to safely store keys to access units containing personal data about vulnerable children and adults.

Cumbria County Council was told to make a number of improvements to the way it handles confidential information following a data protection audit.

The audit, which was carried out by the Information Commissioner Office, focused on training and awareness of data protection, records management and requests for personal data.

It concluded overall that there was a “limited level of assurance” that proper processes and procedures were in place.

And there was “considerable scope” for improvement regarding how the authority followed data protection rules.

Officials found that open bags of rubbish containing confidential waste were still used in some council offices even though locked containers were available in others.

The authority had no procedure for the safe storage of keys for lockable units used to store personal data in the adult social care and children’s services departments.

Any request to access children’s services files entirely relied on one key person being available, auditors said.

There was no clear monitoring of how social workers stored and disposed of their diaries and notebooks.

The report also found that “data protection incidents” at the council this year were down to staff not completing online training.

It wasn’t clear if staff who were responsible for managing records had had any specialised data protections training, nor how they were made aware of the policy on records management.

The audit found that there was “limited assurance” regarding requests for personal data.

However, auditors recognised that measures were in place to raise awareness among children’s services staff about privacy, while data protection featured in the adult social care newsletter.

The council has been handed a number of recommendations to address the concerns raised in the report.

It comes after the News & Star highlighted a number of confidentiality breaches concerning children’s services staff.

We revealed how four separate families had been either handed or sent highly-confidential information about children who were nothing to do with them.

The authority said afterwards that mandatory data protection and information security training had been introduced for all staff over the past year and the issue of confidentiality is a priority.

Ian Stewart, cabinet member responsible for organisational change, confirmed the authority was “striving” to further improve on refresher sessions for staff on information governance, how data is logged centrally, and the need for a “more effective central oversight over personal data requests”.

“We are currently on track to implement all of the recommendations in our action plan.”

Cumbria County Council said the audit was voluntarily held to check its procedures and improve them.

It added that a number of good practices were highlighted, including mandatory courses for IT security, the way electronic information is identified, logged, and risk assessed.

Carlisle Conservative MP John Stevenson said the ongoing issues within social services were a cause for concern.

“This is clearly an issue that needs addressed, especially when it involves confidential information and vulnerable people, whether they are adults or children.

“But it doesn’t just apply to vulnerable people. Any information that is passed to the council should be dealt with appropriately.

“There shouldn’t just be a new policy for the department. It should be right across the council,” he added.


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