ICO Fines London NHS Trust For Exposing Patient Details

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The regulator fined a sexual health clinic £180,000 after it exposed the naes and email addresses of HIV patients

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined a London NHS trust £180,000 after it exposed the email addresses of more than 700 users of an HIV service.

The service, offered by 56 Dean Street, a sexual health clinic based in Soho, allowed patients with HIV to receive test results and make appointments via email, and also offered an occasional newsletter, with some people without HIV also receiving the newsletter, according to the ICO.

Emails, full names exposed

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In September of last year the clinic mistakenly sent the newsletter in such a way that all recipients could see the email addresses of the others, the addresses having wrongly been entered into the “to” field instead of the “bcc” field.

Most of the addresses, 730 out of 781, contained the recipient’s full name, the ICO said.

The ICO said on Monday it found the incident represented a serious breach of the Data Protection Act and was likely to have caused substantial distress, and as a result levied the fine on Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the clinic.

The body can impose monetary penalties of up to £500,000 for such breaches. The fine is to be paid into HM Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and not kept by the ICO.

“The law demands this type of information is handled with particular care following clear rules, and put simply, this did not happen,” information commissioner Christopher Graham stated.

He added that the clinic served a small area of London, meaning that people recognised other names on the list and feared their own name would also be recognised.

‘Substantial’ remediation

The ICO found that this wasn’t the trust’s first such breach. In March 2010 a member of staff in its pharmacy department sent a questionnaire to 17 patients in relation to their HIV treatment, exposing the addresses to other recipients in the same way.

Some remedial measures were put in place following this mistake, but no specific training was implemented, the ICO said.

Graham said the trust apologised for the mistake and has now undertaken “substantial” remedial work.

“It is crucial that the senior managers at NHS Trusts understand the requirements of data protection law, and the serious consequences that follow when that law is broken,” he stated.

The regulator’s highest fine to date, for £350,000, was levied against a marketing company after it bombarded people night and day with 46 million automated nuisance calls.

Labour MP David Lammy was fined £5,000 after launching more than 35,000 automated calls over a two-day period in August of last year in support of his Mayor of London election bid.

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