Proposed NHS portal raises questions about data security
Proposed NHS portal raises questions about data security

A monetary penalty of £60,000 has been issued to St George's Healthcare NHS Trust in London after sensitive medical details were sent to the wrong address.

According to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), two letters were mistakenly sent to the wrong address and both contained ‘confidential and highly sensitive personal data'. This included medical history, details of a physical examination and its findings and a medical opinion on those findings.

The ICO investigation also found that the person had lived at the address the letters were sent to, but not for five years, while the individual's current address had been provided to the trust's staff before the medical examination took place. Additionally the correct address had been logged on the national care records service, known as NHS Spine, in June 2006.

The trust had set up a prompt to remind staff about the need to check and update patient information against Spine; however the trust knew the prompt could be bypassed and failed to take action to address the problem until it was too late.

The mistake was made after the trust's staff failed to use the address supplied before the examination, or check that the individual's recorded address on their local patient database matched the data on the Spine.

The trust has now taken action to ensure that the personal information they handle is kept secure. This includes making sure adequate checks are in place to ensure that local information the trust has for patients is correct, by cross checking that information against Spine and other relevant sources.

Stephen Eckersley, the ICO's head of enforcement, said: “It's hard to imagine a more distressing situation for a vulnerable person than the thought of their sensitive health information being sent to someone who had no reason to see it. This breach was clearly preventable and is the result of the trust's failure to make sure the contact details they have for their patients are accurate and up to date.

“This is the fourth monetary penalty we have issued to the NHS in the past two months. It is vital that these organisations make sure they have the necessary measures in place to keep patients' details secure.”