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.

A former health adviser has been found guilty of accessing medical records of patients without a valid legal reason.

Christopher O’Brien, 36, was working at the South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust when he unlawfully accessed the records of 14 patients, who were known personally to him, between June and December 2019. He did so without a valid business reason and without the knowledge of the Trust.

One of the victims said the breach left them worried and anxious about Mr O’Brien having access to their health records, with another victim saying the breach put them off from going to their doctor.

Mr O’Brien pleaded guilty to unlawfully obtaining personal data in breach of section 170 of the Data Protection Act 2018 when he appeared at Coventry Magistrates’ Court on 3 August 2022. He was ordered to pay £250 compensation to 12 patients, totalling £3,000.

Stephen Eckersley, ICO Director of Investigations, said:

“This case is a reminder to people that just because your job may give you access to other people’s personal information, especially sensitive data such as health records, that doesn’t mean you have the legal right to look at it.

“Such behaviour can be extremely distressing for the victims. Not only is it an invasion of their privacy, it potentially jeopardises the important relationship of trust and confidence between patients and the NHS.

“I would urge organisations to remind their staff about their data protection and information governance responsibilities, including how to handle people’s sensitive data responsibly."

Organisations can find data protection and information governance training and resources on the ICO website.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights law, upholding information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals. It has its head office in Wilmslow, Cheshire, and regional offices in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA2018), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR) and a further five Acts / Regulations.
  3. 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.
  4. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.