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Q: If Pesky Pepper had a peek at patient papers, at how many patient papers did Pesky Pepper peek? A: 231

Bored secretary at GP fined for sneaky look at medical records

A bored trainee secretary at a GP practice has been fined for snooping on the health records of colleagues, friends and strangers.

Hannah Pepper has to pay £1,028.75 after she was found to have illegally accessed 231 patient files while working at the Fakenham Medical Practice in Norfolk, an eastern county in the UK (for US readers).

The Information Commissioner's Office, Britain's data watchdog, was brought in after the surgery discovered Pepper had been reading a colleague's patient file without consent.

Her role required her to look at some medical records – lawfully – to help doctors, solicitors and insurance companies.

However, she also looked at the patient records of colleagues and their families, her own relatives, friends and members of the public – which is a breach of data protection laws.

She admitted to four charges of unlawfully accessing personal data after telling the ICO that she had no justifiable reason for accessing the records.

The watchdog said she had "suggested that at times she struggled with the monotony of some of her tasks".

Pepper, whose case was heard at Kings Lynn Magistrates' Court, was fined £350, and ordered to pay costs of £643.75 and a victim surcharge of £35.

She joins the ranks of many other nosy staffers at health organisations who can't resist the urge to pry into other people's patient records.

Mike Shaw, ICO criminal investigations group manager, slammed such activity, noting that these people "have been placed in a position of trust, and with that trust comes added responsibility".

He added: "Data protection law exists for a reason and curiosity or boredom is no excuse for failing to respect people's legal right to privacy. Just because you can do something, that doesn't mean you should." ®

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