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Nursing home fined in patient/staff data breach

Whitehead Nursing Home
Whitehead Nursing Home

A nursing home in Northern Ireland has been fined after a data breach relating to sensitive details about patients and staff, connected to the theft of a computer.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) launched an investigation after an unencrypted laptop containing the details was taken home by a member of staff at Whitehead Nursing Home, Co Antrim, and then stolen in a domestic burglary.

The computer held medical information on 29 residents, including mental and physical health and "Do not resuscitate" status.

It also stored data relating to 46 staff, including reasons for sickness absence and information about disciplinary matters.

Fining the home £15,000, the ICO said it had found "systematic failings" in data protection measures at Whitehead Nursing Home.

Ken Macdonald, head of ICO Regions, said: "This nursing home put its employees and residents at risk by failing to follow basic procedures to properly manage and look after the personal information in its care.

"Today's fine shows we can and will act against any organisation we feel is not taking seriously its duty to look after the personal details it has been entrusted with.

"In a world where personal information is increasingly valuable, it is even more important to ensure the security of data is not overlooked."

Organisations are legally bound to have measures in place to keep the personal information they hold secure.

Mr Macdonald said the nursing home did not have any policies in place regarding the use of encryption, homeworking and the storage of mobile devices or provide enough data security training.

"Our investigation revealed major flaws in the nursing home's approach to data protection," he said.

"Employees would have expected any details about disciplinary matters or their state of health to have been kept safe.

"Likewise, residents would not have expected their confidential information to have been stored on an unprotected laptop and taken to an employee's home.

"Whitehead Nursing Home had totally inadequate provisions for IT security and procedure and poor data protection training."

Whitehead nursing home said it was "surprised and disappointed" by the ICO ruling.

A statement from the home said: "In response to the findings of the Information Commissioners and the monetary penalty imposed on Whitehead Nursing Home, we acknowledge that there were technical breaches of the Data Protection Act, however these were largely outside our control given that the laptop in question was stolen in a burglary from an employee's home.

"We are somewhat surprised and disappointed at the ICO outcome. The laptop in question was password protected to restrict access to unauthorised persons, however the technical breach was in relation to the lack of full encryption.

"We are very disappointed in their decision given that we self-referred the matter, cooperated fully with them throughout the investigation process and put in place rigorous training, policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the DPA (Data Protection Act).

"In addition the police and all the relevant authorities were informed of the theft, and we cooperated fully with their investigations.

"At the time of the theft staff, the clients in Whitehead Nursing Home and their families were also informed of the breach, none of which have made a complaint to the company and to date we have no confirmation that an actual data or privacy breach occurred."

PA