The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

NHS Trust fined £325,000 following data breach affecting thousands of patients and staff

 

News release: 1 June 2012


Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust has been served with a Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) of £325,000 following a serious breach of the Data Protection Act (DPA), the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said today.

The fine is the highest issued by the ICO since it was granted the power to issue CMPs in April 2010.

It follows the discovery of highly sensitive personal data belonging to tens of thousands of patients and staff – including some relating to HIV and Genito Urinary Medicine (GUM) patients - on hard drives sold on an Internet auction site in October and November 2010.

The data included details of patients’ medical conditions and treatment, disability living allowance forms and children’s reports. It also included documents containing staff details including National Insurance numbers, home addresses, ward and hospital IDs, and information referring to criminal convictions and suspected offences.

The data breach occurred when an individual engaged by the Trust’s IT service provider, Sussex Health Informatics Service (HIS), was tasked to destroy approximately 1000 hard drives held in a room accessed by key code at Brighton General Hospital in September and October 2010. A data recovery company bought four hard drives from a seller on an Internet auction site in December 2010, who had purchased them from the individual.

Although the ICO was assured in our initial investigation following this discovery that only these four hard drives were affected, a university contacted us in April 2011 to advise that one of their students had purchased hard drives via an Internet auction site. An examination of the drives established that they contained data which belonged to the Trust.

The Trust has been unable to explain how the individual removed at least 252 of the approximate 1000 hard drives they were supposed to destroy from the hospital during their five days on site. They are not believed to have known the key code needed to access the room where the drives were stored, and were usually supervised by staff working for HIS. However, the Trust has acknowledged that the individual would have left the building for breaks, and that the hospital is publicly accessible.
 
The ICO’s Deputy Commissioner and Director of Data Protection David Smith said:

“The amount of the CMP issued in this case reflects the gravity and scale of the data breach. It sets an example for all organisations - both public and private - of the importance of keeping personal information secure. That said, patients of the NHS in particular rely on the service to keep their sensitive personal details secure. In this case, the Trust failed significantly in its duty to its patients, and also to its staff.”

The Trust has now committed to providing a secure central store for hard drives and other media, reviewing the process for vetting potential IT suppliers, obtaining the services of a fully accredited ISO 27001 IT waste disposal company, and making progress towards central network access. 

 

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