The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has reminded NHS staff about the potentially serious consequences of prying into patients’ medical records without a valid reason.                   

The warning came after a former health care assistant was ordered to pay a total of £1,715 in fines and costs after pleading guilty to offences of unlawfully obtaining and unlawfully disclosing personal data.

Colchester Magistrates’ Court was told Brioney Woolfe accessed the medical records of several people without a business purpose to do so while employed as a health care assistant by Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust.

An investigation, which followed a complaint by a patient, established that Woolfe had accessed the records of 29 people including family members, colleagues and others where no connection with the defendant is known, between December 2014 and May 2016. Some of the information was subsequently shared with others. That was not only a breach of patient confidentiality but also against the Data Protection Act.

Woolfe, 29, of Stour Close, Dovercourt, Essex, was fined £400 or the offence of obtaining personal data, and a further £650 for the offence of disclosing personal data. She was also ordered to pay a contribution of £600 towards prosecution costs, plus a victim surcharge of £65.

The case is one of several ICO prosecutions involving staff illegally accessing health records in recent months and Head of Enforcement Steve Eckersley said:

“Once again we see an NHS employee getting themselves in serious trouble by letting their personal curiosity get the better of them.

“Patients are entitled to have their privacy protected and those who work with sensitive personal data need to know that they can’t just access it or share it with others when they feel like it. The law is clear and the consequences of breaking it can be severe.”

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 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law that will replace the Data Protection Act 1998 and will apply in the UK from 25 May 2018. The government has confirmed that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  8. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.