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Warning that accessing patient records without reason is illegal follows HCA case

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NHS staff have been warned about the potentially serious consequences of prying into patient records without a valid reason, following a case last week involving a healthcare assistant.

The former HCA was ordered to pay £1,715 in fines and costs after pleading guilty to unlawfully obtaining and unlawfully disclosing personal data, noted the Information Commissioner’s Office.

“An NHS employee got themselves in serious trouble by letting their personal curiosity get the better of them”

Steve Eckersley

Colchester Magistrates’ Court was told Brioney Woolfe accessed the records without a “business purpose to do so”, while employed by Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust.

An investigation, following a complaint by a patient, found that she had accessed the records of 29 people including family members, colleagues and others between December 2014 and May 2016.

Some of the information was subsequently shared with others, which was not only a breach of patient confidentiality, but also against the Data Protection Act, noted the commissioner’s office.

Ms Woolfe, 29, of Stour Close, Dovercourt, Essex, was fined £400 for the offence of obtaining personal data, and a further £650 for the offence of disclosing personal data.

Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust

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Colchester Hospital

In addition, she was ordered to pay a contribution of £600 towards prosecution costs, plus a victim surcharge of £65.

The commissioner’s office highlighted that the case, on 11 August, was one of several prosecutions involving staff illegally accessing health records in recent months.

Its 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,” he said.

“The law is clear and the consequences of breaking it can be severe,” added Mr Eckersley.

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