THOUSANDS of NHS staff not directly involved in the treatment of patients have access to confidential records in Scotland, a report claims today.
Research by Big Brother Watch, a campaign by the TaxPayers' Alliance , asked health authorities across the UK how many "non-medical personnel" had access to patient records.
They found more than 101,000 staff countrywide could see these documents, either in paper form or online. In Scotland, the total stood at 5,733 non-medical staff who could look at documents.
Big Brother Watch claimed that according to some of the UK responses, access to medical records was provided to hospital porters, IT staff and people in finance.
But doctors said in many cases, non-clinical staff needed access to records – such as secretaries and admin workers.
Big Brother Watch contacted acute hospital trusts and health boards across the UK and received responses from 140.
They asked specifically for the number of staff not directly involved in the treatment of patients who have immediate access to medical records.
Immediate access was defined as staff who could see at least a patient's name, date of birth and most recent medical history without needing consent of the patient or another member of staff.
Big Brother Watch director Alex Deane said: "The number of non-medical personnel with access to confidential medical records leaves the system wide open for abuse.
"Whilst Big Brother Watch has considered emergency, necessity and practicality concerns, we believe it is necessary to drastically reduce the number of people with access to medical records to prevent the high rate of data loss experienced by the NHS."
Dr Jean Turner, from the Scotland Patients Association, questioned why a lot of non-medical staff would need the access.
"Some staff, like a medical secretary writing letters for a consultant, might need access to records," she said. "But they don't need to be reading the notes.
"They need to have access to them with confidentially to access name and date and birth, but it should be limited use."
The British Medical Association Scotland recently raised concerns about patient confidentiality with greater use of electronic record-sharing systems.
Dr Brian Keighley, BMA Scotland chairman, said: "Medical staff are often supported by a wider team of secretarial and administrative staff, and it is sometimes appropriate for these members of staff to have access to records."
But he said they were concerned in some situations that records could be accessed "without the knowledge, consent or authorisation of the patient, for purposes other than their health".
A spokeswoman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "All staff who have access to patient records are required to sign a confidentiality clause which makes clear their responsibility to maintain patient confidentiality.
"We employ over 44,000 staff of which approximately 1,300 non-medical staff have access to records as part of their jobs."