A personal injury worker has been ordered to pay just over £2,000 after he obtained confidential details from NHS Bury and tried to use them for financial gain.
Martin Campbell, a former employee at Bury-based personal injuries firm Direct Assist, is believed to have obtained personal details of 29 patients who were treated at the Prestwich and Moorgate Primary Care walk-in centre.
The details were passed to Campbell by his then girlfriend, Dawn Makin, who was working as a nurse at the centre. The information was used to generate leads for the personal injury claims firm over a four-month period.
An investigation began after Bury Primary Care Trust received complaints from patients who had been contacted by a man asking them about their recent injuries and encouraging them to make a personal injury claim.
The investigation found that Makin had unauthorised access to patient files. The Trust then reported its findings to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which initiated proceedings under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.
Campbell pleaded guilty at a hearing at Bury Magistrates' Court on Wednesday, and was ordered to pay a £1,050 fine, £1,160 in costs and a £15 victims' surcharge.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of a £5,000 fine in a magistrates' court or an unlimited fine in a crown court.
An ICO spokesperson told V3.co.uk that the amount of the fine is at the court's discretion and that magistrates take factors such as the ability to pay into account.
The ICO also noted that it will not take any further action against Makin, as doing so is no longer in the public interest.
Individuals found to have breached their duty of confidentiality and the Data Protection Act will continue to be prosecuted, warned Information Commissioner Christopher Graham.
"People's medical information is some of their most sensitive data and they rightly expect health workers only to access it when there is a legitimate business need. Abusing this trust for personal gain is clearly wrong and potentially very distressing for those affected," he said.
"Martin Campbell would have known that obtaining the information was unlawful and yet he put his greed ahead of people's privacy rights. Today's prosecution should help to serve as a deterrent to those who attempt to illegally obtain and pass on people's information."
Since April 2010, the ICO has had the power to fine companies found guilty of breaching the Data Protection Act up to £500,000. However, this power does not extend to individuals, whose behaviour is governed under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.
Hertfordshire County Council has incurred the single biggest ICO fine to date. The public sector organisation was fined £100,000 after faxing information about child abuse and care to the wrong recipients.
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