UK: Scandal of computer snooping by public servants includes medical information

Jack Blanchard reports the results of a freedom of information request on police in Yorkshire, UK. Revelations concerning non-medical incidents are posted to PogoWasRight, but here are the medically related incidents:

The cases include… a doctor in Doncaster caught looking at a colleague’s medical records.

At one hospital, in Rotherham, a cleaner was caught only last month accessing the private medical files of a friend to determine that she had recently had an abortion. That disciplinary case is still proceeding.

A cleaner was able to access medical files? Who are they disciplining? I hope it’s not just the cleaner but whomever is responsible for securing the files.

At another hospital, in Sheffield, a receptionist gathered patients’ personal contact records and used them for a second job as a market researcher.


Meanwhile nine NHS trusts across Yorkshire have revealed mostly isolated cases of staff being reprimanded for similar offences, including primary care trusts in Wakefield and Barnsley, and hospitals trusts in Barnsley, Goole, Mid-Yorkshire, South Tees and Rotherham.

The highest number of cases was at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Trust, where six members of staff have been reprimanded over the past three years. However, the trust insisted only three of the cases should be classed as formal disciplinary matters.

In one such case, a nurse accessed the private medical test results of her daughter’s father. She was dismissed but reinstated on appeal. In another, a clerk received a written warning after looking up her brother’s test results.

A spokeswoman for the trust said: “We take data security very seriously and have a number of means of ensuring that patients’ personal data is not accessed inappropriately. All six cases of inappropriate access to medical records related to an individual’s colleague, partner, or relative – and while this is inexcusable, it does not indicate misuse of the millions of patient records we hold.”

There were five cases at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust, ranging from the relatively innocent – a staff member wanting to send a birthday card to a sick relative, and checking which hospital ward they were on – to the sinister, as in the case of staff member accessing the medical records of an ex-partner’s new partner. Three of the staff members involved received final warnings, and two were dismissed.

Read more in the Yorkshire Post.

In a related news report in the Gazette & Herald by Julie Hayes on data protection breaches by North Yorkshire police, there was also this intriguing statement:

North Yorkshire and York NHS Trust, who had a similar FOI request, said it had not disciplined any of its staff for illegally or inappropriately accessing the personal data of a member of the public over the past three years.

Does that mean that they had no incidents, detected no incidents, or that they had detected incidents but just didn’t discipline anyone? And what about incidents where staff may have accessed personal data of a fellow member of the staff? I’ve emailed the reporter to request clarification.

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