A SAFE containing computer back-up tapes which hold personal information about thousands of patients registered at a Winchester has been stolen during a burglary.

The safe - containing data on 9,803 patients -was taken in a raid on St Paul's Surgery last Saturday.

Hampshire Primary Care Trust has reassured patients that the chance of the information being misused is very small.

A statement said: "We would like to reassure patients registered at the surgery that the chances of anyone being able to do anything untoward with the tapes are very small indeed.

"This is because specialised computer equipment is needed to run the tapes and the information on it is protected by a password. Anyone trying to read the information would also then need to have very advanced computer skills or access to a special computer programme to make any sense of it.

"The GPs and staff at the surgery are all very shocked and upset by the burglary, as anyone who has experienced something similar will understand."

The safe was stored in a locked room and the burglars broke through the rear entrance and the locked office door setting off the alarm.

The surgery is writing to patients to explain what has happened and offer support if required.

Hampshire PCT has set up a telephone helpline for people to call if they have any questions. The people running the helpline are all NHS staff and will treat all calls in strict confidence. If you want to call them, they are on 0845 602 6834 between 8am and 8pm.

Most incidents of this nature involving GP practices are people looking for controlled drugs, money or prescription pads. The safe at St Pauls Surgery didn't contain such items.

PC Jonathan Duggan asked that anyone with any information regarding this incident should contact him at North Walls police station on 0845 045 4545 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.