Complaints about how NHS bodies handle data have tripled in the last year and are likely to keep on rising.

Assistant information commissioner Phil Boyd - who enforces the Data Protection Act in the healthcare sector - said complaints had risen from around 100 to 300 in the last 12 months. Many of these were about access to records.

In October, manual records created in the last three years will also come under the Data Protection Act and will have to meet standards of accuracy and relevance which could lead to even more complaints, Mr Boyd said.

'I think there will be a significant increase in the next year, ' he added.

'The information commissioner will start to enforce the data protection principles more proactively.

'If we take action on junk mail, it would be very difficult for us not to take action in the health arena.'

Mr Boyd believes the NHS understands it must improve record-keeping quality. 'When you have handwriting you can't read or personal comments which ought not to be there, these now become data protection issues.'

His comments come after two NHS bodies were ticked off over the handling of confidential personal details in the information commissioners' annual report. In the most serious case, an unnamed trust received a 'compliance visit' after it repeatedly failed to allow patients access to their medical records within 40 days.

A team from the information commissioners' office visited the trust and agreed improvements to administrative systems.

In the second case, a health authority carried out a lifestyle survey claiming it would be confidential. But by asking for full postcodes, some respondents could theoretically be identified.