CONFIDENTIAL details of 37 patients were discovered lying on a public footpath near a hospital.

The information related to patients, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable, being cared for at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.

The papers included patient names, the town where they lived, their treatment and whether they live on their own or with a partner or carer.

The papers were spotted by a member of the public and handed to The Argus.

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust has apologised to the patients involved and launched an investigation into the incident.

The person who found them said: “If this had fallen into the wrong hands it could have led to people’s homes being targeted by burglars who would also know how vulnerable they are.

“It’s basically like a sucker’s list of who to target and it would not have been difficult to track down their full addresses.

“It’s a serious lapse in security and should not have happened. A lot of these people are clearly vulnerable.

“Information like this should be kept in the hospital and not taken outside.

“If that had been one of my relatives on that list I would have been absolutely furious.”

A trust spokesman said: "This is something that should never happen and we apologise unreservedly to any patients who may have had their confidentiality compromised. We take patient confidentiality extremely seriously and have robust processes in place to ensure the information of the people we care for remains private.

"We will be investigating thoroughly to give us an understanding of how this could happen.”

In 2012 the trust was fined £325,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office for a breach of the data protection act.

It followed an incident in which 232 computer hard drives were stolen and put up for sale on eBay.

They were eventually traced and destroyed and no sensitive information entered the public domain.

Earlier this year confidential patients’ details and records were discovered on a memory stick lying in a street near the Conquest Hospital in St Leonards.