Public Health Wales accidentally leaks data of 18,000 coronavirus patients

14 September 2020, 14:36 | Updated: 14 September 2020, 14:44

Public Health Wales has begun an inquiry into the data breach
Public Health Wales has begun an inquiry into the data breach. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Public Health Wales has apologised and launched an investigation after the "personally identifiable" data of more than 18,000 coronavirus patients was accidentally leaked online. 

The major data breach occurred on 30 August and saw the initials, date of birth, geographical area and sex of 18,105 people who had tested positive for Covid-19 uploaded to a public server. 

The information was publicly accessible for 20 hours before being taken down and was viewed 56 times, officials said. 

For 1,926 of those affected who live in care homes, supported housing or share a postcode with these, the name of their residence was also leaked. 

Public Health Wales (PHW) said the risk of identification of those affected “appears low” but is “higher” for those whose residence was published, adding it occurred as a result of "human error".

The body said in a statement: "There is no evidence at this stage that the data has been misused. 

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"However, we recognise the concern and anxiety this will cause and deeply regret that on this occasion we have failed to protect Welsh residents’ confidential information."

The Information Commissioner's Office and Welsh Government have been informed and PHW has begun an external inquiry, led by the head of information governance at the NHS Wales Informatics Service. 

Tracey Cooper, Chief Executive of Public Health Wales said, “We take our obligations to protect people’s data extremely seriously and I am sorry that on this occasion we failed. 

“I would like to reassure the public that we have in place very clear processes and policies on data protection. We have commenced a swift and thorough external investigation into how this specific incident occurred and the lessons to be learned. 

“I would like to reassure our public that we have taken immediate steps to strengthen our procedures and sincerely apologise again for any anxiety this may cause people.”