UK: Former health adviser found guilty of illegally accessing patient records

The Information Commissioner’s Office announced:

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, of Long Compton, Warwickshire, 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.”

So he had to appear in court and pay compensation. Will he also be struck off any professional registry or prohibited from working in any setting where there might be access to patient records? Or will he undergoing retraining on ethics and privacy? Other consequences such as these may be out of the ICO’s scope but within the scope of professional and chartering organizations.

DataBreaches notes that charging employees for such snooping and paying patients small compensation such as £250 is more than what might happen here in the U.S. in most incidents of employee snooping of this kind, but these kinds of incidents do harm to patients in terms of trust and willingness to seek medical care.

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