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Nurses cautioned on patient confidentiality amid royal data breach

A government minister has cautioned nurses and other healthcare professionals about looking at patient notes, amid claims of a data breach involving the Princess of Wales’ medical information.

Health minister Maria Caulfield, who is also a registered nurse, reminded staff that there could be professional sanctions for breaching patient confidentiality.

“There are particularly hefty implications if you are caught looking at notes or medical records that you should not be looking at”

Maria Caulfield

Her comments came after it was revealed earlier this week that a probe had been launched into claims that the princess’s confidentiality was breached while she was a patient at the London Clinic.

The alleged breach took place after she was discharged from the hospital on 29 January, following abdominal surgery.

Three members of staff are being investigated for allegedly trying to access her medical records, the Mirror Online reported.

In a radio interview on Wednesday, Ms Caulfield said that “the rules are very clear for all patients”.

“Unless you’re looking after that patient or unless they’ve given you their consent, you should not be looking at patients’ notes,” she told Nick Ferrari on LBC.

Ms Caulfield confirmed that the police had been informed about the alleged incident and warned that there could be further consequences if a breach of confidentiality was found.

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She said: “The [Nursing and Midwifery Council and] other health regulators can strike you off the register if they breach is serious enough.

“So there are particularly hefty implications if you are caught looking at notes or medical records that you should not be looking at,” she added.

In a statement, London Clinic chief executive Al Russell said: “Everyone at the London Clinic is acutely aware of our individual, professional, ethical and legal duties with regards to patient confidentiality.

“We take enormous pride in the outstanding care and discretion we aim to deliver for all our patients that put their trust in us every day,” he said.

Mr Russell said the hospital had systems in place to monitor management of patient information and, in the case of a breach, “all appropriate investigatory, regulatory and disciplinary steps will be taken”.

He added: “There is no place at our hospital for those who intentionally breach the trust of any of our patients or colleagues.”

It has been confirmed that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has been made aware of the incident and is assessing the information provided.

The privacy watchdog is said to be investigating whether the London Clinic delayed notifying it about the claims, The Guardian reported.

Lesley Maslen, executive director of professional regulation at the NMC, said: “Our code is clear that all nurses, midwives and nursing associates must respect people’s right to privacy and confidentiality.

“This includes taking all steps to make sure that people’s records are kept securely and information about them is shared appropriately.

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“Whenever concerns are raised with us about professionals on our register, we consider whether we may need to take action to protect the public and to maintain trust in our professions.”

The ICO was contacted for comment.

The London Clinic, an independent healthcare provider and registered charity, is located at the corner of Devonshire Place and Marylebone Road in central London.

One of England’s largest private hospitals, it has longstanding links with the royal family, with many of its facilities having been officially opened by them.

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