NHS employees who are tempted to look at patient records without a valid legal reason should consider the potential implications for both themselves and the health service.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued the warning after an NHS administrator was fined for repeatedly accessing a patient’s medical records without a valid legal reason.
Nicola Wren was employed by Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership trust when she breached data protection laws aimed at protecting patient privacy.
Medway Magistrates’ Court was told she had accessed the health records of a single patient 279 times over a three-week period in October and November 2015, viewing the files up to 50 times in a day. Although the patient was known to the defendant, she had no valid lawful reason to access the records and did so without her employer’s consent.
Wren, 42, of Rainham, Kent, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing personal data in breach of s55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 and was fined £300. She was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £364.08 and a victim surcharge of £30.
Mike Shaw, Criminal Enforcement Group Manager at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which brought the prosecution, said:
“Employees, who in many cases are very experienced and capable, are getting into serious trouble and often losing their jobs, usually over little more than personal curiosity.
“The laws on data protection are there for a reason and people have the right to know their highly sensitive personal information will be treated with appropriate privacy and respect. The ICO will continue to take action against those who abuse their position and potentially jeopardise the important relationship of trust between patients and the NHS.”
- The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
- The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
- The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
- The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law which will apply in the UK from 25 May 2018. The Government has confirmed the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR. The Government is introducing measures related to this and wider data protection reforms in a Data Protection Bill.
- Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:
- fairly and lawfully processed;
- processed for limited purposes;
- adequate, relevant and not excessive;
- accurate and up to date;
- not kept for longer than is necessary;
- processed in line with your rights;
- secure; and
- not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.
- Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
- Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
- To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns