The Department of Health needs to seek "significant improvements" to its data management records, said the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The Department of Health has been issued with a formal practice recommendationAt the ICO's request, the National Archives has conducted an assessment of records management practice at the Department of Health (DoH).

There were "good central policies and guidance in place", the data protection watchdog said.

"However, much of the responsibility for day-to-day management of records has been devolved to local staff, leading to the development of local practices, some of which lack consistency across the Department," said the ICO.

Senior managers must do more to ensure that good behaviours and practices are reinforced, especially in the face of organisational changes, the ICO said.

Assistant information commissioner, Gerrard Tracey, said: “Existing guidance states that good records management should be seen as a benefit, not a burden. All organisations, public and private, are advised to have good records management as part of achieving business efficiency, by making sure that information is easily retrieved and properly documented.”

This is not the first time that the DoH has been issued with a so-called "practice recommendation" by the ICO. The organisation was served a practice recommendation in April 2008 in relation to its handling of requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Practice recommendations do not force any action.

The ICO said it would continue to monitor the DoH's request handling and records management functions.

Department of Health said in a statement that its board had approved work to fix the problems raised by the ICO report.