Information Commissioner's Office
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ICO takes action after medical examination results are sent to the wrong address

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued a penalty of £60,000 to St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust in London after a vulnerable individual’s sensitive medical details were sent to the wrong address.

The information was contained in two letters that were sent out by the Trust in May 2011. While the letters were addressed to the correct recipient, they were sent to an old address, despite the person not having lived in the property for nearly five years.

The ICO’s investigation found that the individual’s current address had been provided to the trust’s staff before the medical examination took place. Additionally the correct address had been logged on the national care records service, known as NHS SPINE, in June 2006.

The mistake was made after the Trust’s staff failed to use the address supplied before the examination, or check that the individual’s recorded address on their local patient database matched the data on the SPINE. The Trust had setup a prompt to remind staff about the need to check and update patient information against SPINE; however the Trust knew the prompt could be bypassed and failed to take action to address the problem until it was too late.

Stephen Eckersley, the ICO’s Head of Enforcement, said:

“It’s hard to imagine a more distressing situation for a vulnerable person than the thought of their sensitive health information being sent to someone who had no reason to see it. This breach was clearly preventable and is the result of the Trust’s failure to make sure the contact details they have for their patients are accurate and up to date.

“This is the fourth monetary penalty we have issued to the NHS in the past two months. It is vital that these organisations make sure they have the necessary measures in place to keep patients’ details secure.”   

The Trust has now taken action to make sure that the personal information they handle is kept secure. This includes making sure adequate checks are in place to ensure that local information the trust has for patients is correct, by cross checking that information against SPINE and other relevant sources.

A copy of the penalty notice issued St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust can be viewed on  the ICO's Taking action page.

Notes to Editors

1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
2. 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.

3. The ICO is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and produces a monthly e-newsletter. Our press office page provides more information for journalists.

4. 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 
  • Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

5. 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.

6. Any CMP is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

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