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UK data watchdog ‘assessing’ report hospital staffer tried to access Princess of Wales’ medical records

By Max Foster, Pauline Lockwood, Niamh Kennedy and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN

London CNN  — 

The United Kingdom’s data watchdog is “assessing” reports that a staff member at a London hospital allegedly tried to access the private medical records of Catherine, Princess of Wales during her stay in January.

The Daily Mirror tabloid reports The London Clinic hospital, where the Princess of Wales spent 13 nights after planned abdominal surgery in January, had launched a probe into the allegations that her confidentiality had been breached.

In a written statement to CNN, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which is the UK’s independent regulator for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, confirmed it had “received a breach report and are assessing the information provided.”

The London Clinic has not yet responded to CNN queries on the matter, but in a statement to the Daily Mirror, said it refused to comment on the alleged breach.

“We firmly believe that all our patients, no matter their status, deserve total privacy and confidentiality regarding their medical information,” the hospital said.

Citing an unnamed source from the hospital, The Daily Mirror reports “at least one member of staff was said to have been caught trying to access the 42-year-old’s notes” and that the whole medical staff have been left utterly shocked and distraught over the allegations.”

Hospital staff alerted the palace immediately after discovering the alleged attempt and promised to carry out a full investigation, the Mirror adds.

Police officers stand guard outside the London Clinic on January 18, days after the Princess of Wales underwent surgery.

When asked by CNN, Kensington Palace said, “This is a matter for The London Clinic.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if the attempted breach had been successful but the UK’s health minister warned hospital staff could face prosecution if found to have accessed the princess’ medical records without permission.

Maria Caulfield told British broadcaster Sky News on Wednesday that there were “very strict rules about which patient notes you can access.”

Caulfield said in the case of such a breach, the ICO “would take enforcement action” against healthcare trusts and primary healthcare practices. She added that action may also be taken against individual practitioners by their respective regulatory bodies.

If the ICO deems an organization not to be “taking its responsibilities seriously” it may “also take enforcement action,” according to the website. In the most serious cases, the watchdog can “serve a monetary penalty of up to £17.5 million (over $22 million), or 4 percent of your total worldwide annual turnover, whichever is higher.”

London police are not currently investigating the alleged possible breach. A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police told CNN on Wednesday it was “not aware of any referral” at this time.

This is not the first time the London Clinic has faced concern over its governance procedures. It was issued with a warning notice by England’s hospital regulator for “failing to comply” with regulations covering “good governance” following a review in June 2021.

While the Care Quality Commission found that records of patients’ care and treatment were “clear, up-to-date and stored securely,” it noted numerous areas that required improvement.

Another subsequent inspection months later noted improvements, assessors again found cause for concern, particularly regarding “the handling of complaints.”

The princess, known as Kate, has been at the center of intense speculation in the UK since Kensington Palace announced she had undergone a planned abdominal surgery without giving specific details in January. No further information has been revealed leading to intense speculation and scrutiny regarding the royal family.

On Tuesday, another UK newspaper, The Sun, published a video – taken by a member of the public – showing a smiling Kate walking in a garden centre alongside her husband, Prince William.

Speculation and conspiracies grew on social media platforms after a photo released on Mother’s Day showing the smiling princess and her children had been digitally edited. The Palace released a statement at the time, saying Kate had experimented with editing software and apologized for the confusion caused.

Since then more photos, believed to have been edited, have come under scrutiny by news and photo organizations.

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