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ICO issues first penalty to the NHS following serious data breach

A Welsh health board has become the first NHS organisation to be served a monetary penalty following a serious breach of the Data Protection Act, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said yesterday.

The Aneurin Bevan Health Board (ABHB) has been issued with a penalty of £70,000 after a sensitive report - containing explicit details relating to a patient’s health - was sent to the wrong person.

The error occurred when a consultant emailed a letter to a secretary for formatting, but did not include enough information for the secretary to identify the correct patient. The doctor also misspelt the name of the patient at one point, which led to the report being sent to a former patient with a very similar name in March last year. 

The ICO’s investigation found that neither member of staff had received data protection training and that the organisation didn’t have adequate checks in place to ensure that personal information was sent to the correct person. These poor practices were also used by other clinical and secretarial staff across the organisation. 

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

“The health service holds some of the most sensitive information available. The damage and distress caused by the loss of a patient’s medical record is obvious, therefore it is vital that organisations across this sector make sure their data protection practices are adequate.

“Aneurin Bevan Health Board failed to have suitable checks in place to keep the sensitive information they handled secure. This case could have been extremely distressing to the individual and their family and may have been prevented if the information had been checked prior to it being sent. 

“We are pleased that the Health Board has now committed to taking action to address the problems highlighted by our investigation; however organisations across the health service must stand up and take notice of this decision if they want to avoid future enforcement action from the ICO.”

ABHB have also signed an undertaking to address the concerns expressed by the ICO during its investigation. This includes ensuring all staff are made aware of and trained on the organisation’s policies on storage and use of personal data, that there is appropriate and regular monitoring of compliance with policies on data protection and IT security, and that new checking processes are introduced across all sites to confirm a patient’s identity before personal information is sent out. The Board has confirmed that it has already introduced some of these measures.

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. 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

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

5. If you need more information, please contact the ICO press office on 0303 123 9070.

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