UK public lacks faith in NHS’s ability to keep their data safe

VMware research reveals major concerns around the impact of cyber attacks on delivery of care and emergency response

  • 79% of those surveyed believe the NHS is at risk from further cyber attacks
  • 54% believe the introduction of robots and automation is only going to increase the threat

The report highlights the need for improved cyber security

Patients and members of the public have voiced their concerns over the safety of personal data, with only 15% trusting the NHS to keep their information safe from cyber criminals.

VMware this week announced research revealing the UK public’s concerns around the NHS and increasing cyber attacks.

As the NHS strives to meet its goal of providing a paperless service by 2020; demonstrating that it can deliver digital services safely and securely will be a vital part of taking patients on the journey and ensuring they are supportive of this evolution

According to the survey, which was co-sponsored by Intel, only 15% of people said they completely trust the NHS to adequately protect their data; and 79% believe the NHS is at imminent risk of further cyber attacks.

Improved security is vital, not just for protecting critical services from hackers; but the study suggested the NHS also needs to rebuild public trust as the sophistication of cyber attacks continues to grow.

Key findings include:

  • 66% of consumers are concerned about the NHS’s ability to protect their personal data from a successful cyber attack
  • 72% are worried that the quality of care they receive could be impacted by an attack on NHS systems
  • 51% believe emergency response services may be impacted in the event of a cyber attack

And, with the healthcare sector exploring new ways to embrace automation and make use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology to improve the delivery of care, over half of those surveyed – 54% - believe these technologies will only increase the threat.

41% are also concerned about the impact of cyber attacks on machines used in diagnosis and operations – many of which are at the forefront of cutting-edge new treatments.

The findings suggest a desire for greater investment and transparency regarding cyber security, with more than a third – 34% – claiming the NHS and government are not investing enough; and 34% saying they would be happier sharing their data if they knew how it would be used.

In light of this, many will welcome the recent decision to introduce digital services that will help patients understand who has accessed their summary care record and how their personal confidential data collected by NHS Digital has been used beyond direct care, as recommended by the National Data Guardian (NDG) review.

Separate VMware research also revealed that more than a third – 38% – of NHS IT leaders said they don’t trust the service to protect their own data, a worrying statistic at a time when consumers need reassurance that their data will not only be used to improve their quality of care, but also be secure.

The drive to create a more-secure NHS will require continual support for NHS trusts, the adoption of new and secure technologies, and investment to ensure cyber security is fully compliant with laws and standards

Commenting on the findings, Tim Hearn, director of UK government and public services at VMware, said: “With the digitisation of the NHS, the amount of data generated every day is increasing exponentially. As the NHS strives to meet its goal of providing a paperless service by 2020; demonstrating that it can deliver digital services safely and securely will be a vital part of taking patients on the journey and ensuring they are supportive of this evolution.

This study shows there is considerable work still to be done to gain that confidence, however.

“While individual trusts are making great strides in improving their digital and online services in challenging circumstances, the public is rightly concerned that the NHS remains vulnerable to a cyber attack.”

David Houlding, director of healthcare privacy and security at Intel, added: “These findings highlight the widespread public concern around patient data protection.

“The future of healthcare relies on the increased use and sharing of data, and yet trust in the protection of this data is low.

“The drive to create a more-secure NHS will require continual support for NHS trusts, the adoption of new and secure technologies, and investment to ensure cyber security is fully compliant with laws and standards.”

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