20 hospitals around the country were inspected

An investigation into data protection in 20 hospitals around the country has raised concerns about the personal information of patients being exposed.

The Data Protection Commissioner has raised 14 matters of concern and made a number of recommendations.

This investigation involved physical inspections of hopitals and HSE facilities across the country last year - and focussed on how sensitive personal data & patient files are dealt with.

It was the first investigation of its kind that's ever been carried out here.

Concerns in 14 different areas were identified - a lack of restrictions to the accessing of medical records - with a potential risk of staff snooping through the records of family membes, friends or others out of sheer nosiness or for more sinister purposes.

The recommendation is for more robust controls on how that information is protected and less staff having access to it in the first place.

Another area of concern is how patient observation charts are kept - many are left outside rooms meaning anyone walking by can see the personal data of patients.

The report says that practice should be stopped and that charts should be stored more securely.

When it comes to privacy, there's a recommendation for more private spaces to be made available - after concerns conversations between patients and staff are being easily overheard by third parties.

The Data Protection Commisioner says each hospital will need to support the implementation of the recommendations.