Dozens of highly sensitive and urgent cancer, HIV and mental health test results carried out by Kingston Hospital have been found abandoned in a bag in a nearby street.

The 173 documents, which included names of the patients, dates of birth, NHS numbers and GP details, as well as their test results, was found inside a grubby, unmarked motorbike bag in Kingston Hill, shortly before 1pm on Friday.

The man who found them rang the Surrey Comet and, realising their importance, we passed them back to Kingston Hospital later that day, in order to prevent possible further delay to the treatment of those involved.

This incident, which will horrify anyone who uses the hospital, comes hot on the heels of a string of highly embarrassing cases of data loss by HM Revenue and Customs and others, and has led to calls for changes in the law to make failure to protect personal data a criminal offence.

But this week Kingston Hospital refused to answer any questions about the issue. It would not even reveal when the documents went missing, whether any other patient documents have been lost and what steps have been taken to prevent it happening again.

It merely issued a two-line written statement: "The trust is taking the matter very seriously. With a full investigation under way, we will not be commenting further at this time."

It did not even apologise. All it will reveal is that the documents were being transported from Kingston to Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton.

Wandsworth Primary Care Trust, which is responsible for Queen Mary's Hospital, issued its own statement saying: "Kingston Hospital has made us aware of the incident and we are working with them to address any implications and to make sure that this doesn't happen again."

The Comet has contacted the Information Commissioners' Office, which is responsible for enforcing data protection, and it promised to launch an immediate inquiry.

A spokesman said: "We will be contacting Kingston PCT to establish how this incident occurred and to ensure systems are put in place to prevent this from happening again."

Edward Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton, called for an immediate independent inquiry and said: "It's par for the course to shut up shop, but they can't hide on this one".

A member of staff at Kingston Hospital told the Comet she was "amazed" that documents were still sent by courier and said it was "very worrying".

Shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley said: "This delivers yet another blow to patient confidence about the security of their personal information. It must be very distressing for the patients concerned. I urge the hospitals concerned to undertake an immediate investigation and present their measures for securing data."

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