The Information Commissioner’s Office has found the Department of Health in breach of the Data Protection Act following an investigation into a security breach in the Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) website, and warns the department faces potential prosecution.

The ICO yesterday warned the DH of possible future prosecutions following the May security breach on the MTAS website, which resulted in personal details – including religious beliefs and sexual orientation – of medical students applying for their first posts as doctors could be seen by anyone accessing the MTAS website.

The Information Commissioner requires the DH to sign a formal undertaking to comply with the principles of the Data Protection Act. The ICO says failure to meet the terms of the undertaking “is likely to lead to further enforcement action by the ICO and could result in prosecution by the ICO”.

Mick Gorrill, assistant commissioner at the ICO, said: “This is an unacceptable breach of security. Organisations must ensure that the personal information they hold is secure – this is an important principle of the Data Protection Act.”

Gorrill continued: “Research by the ICO shows that nine out of ten individuals are concerned that organisations are failing to keep their information secure so it is essential that the DH takes the appropriate measures that we have outlined in order to protect individual’s personal information.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) says that the MTAS security breach is a scandal that must never be repeated. Ram Moorthy, chairman of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee, said: “The anxiety it caused medical students and junior doctors was enormous. They’d already been kicked around by an unfair recruitment process, and this completely destroyed any confidence they had in government IT systems.”

Moorthy added: “Any future application system has to be tested to destruction to ensure that sensitive information does not fall into the wrong hands.”


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