Belfast Health and Social Care (BHSC) Trust has been served with a Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) of £225,000 following a serious breach of the Data Protection Act (DPA), the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said today.
The breach involved the sensitive personal data of thousands of patients and staff, and included medical records, X-rays, scans and lab results, and staff records including unopened payslips.
In April 2007 six local Trusts merged into the BHSC Trust. The merger resulted in the Trust taking on the management of more than 50 largely disused sites, including Belvoir Park Hospital.
In March 2010 the Trust was informed that trespassers had gained access to the Belvoir Park site and taken photos of a number of patient records before posting them online.
The Trust then carried out inspections of seven buildings at the hospital and a large quantity of patient and staff records were discovered, some dating back to the 1950s. However, some parts of the site were not inspected because they were either locked or inaccessible, due to concerns about asbestos contamination
While the Trust took action to improve the security of the site, including repairing damaged doors and windows, on 11 April 2011, the Irish News reported that it was still possible to access the site without authorisation. The Trust then increased the number of security guards on site and carried out a full inspection which revealed further records, many of which were being retained in breach of the Trust’s ‘Records Retention and Disposal’ policy.
The Trust failed to report the situation at the Belvoir Park site to the ICO. The ICO’s investigation found that the Trust failed to keep the information secure and also to securely destroy medical documents which it no longer required.
The ICO’s Assistant Commissioner for Northern Ireland, Ken Macdonald, said:
“The severity of this penalty reflects the fact that this case involved the confidential and sensitive personal data of thousands of patients and staff being compromised.
“The Trust failed to take appropriate action to keep the information secure, leaving sensitive information at a hospital site that was clearly no longer fit for purpose. The people involved would also have suffered additional distress as a result of the posting of this data on the Internet.
“The Trust has therefore failed significantly in its duty to its patients, and we hope that the action we’ve taken sets an example for all organisations that they must keep personal data secure, irrespective of where they choose to store it.”
The Trust has now removed patient records from the site and examined them and either retained or securely disposed of them as required. A decommissioning policy has also been implemented by the Trust to ensure that personal information is securely destroyed once it is no longer needed.