Media contact with public authorities
Posted: 8th May 2018
Contact between journalists and public authorities is a source of increasing controversy and can give rise to tricky data protection and privacy issues.
That was certainly so in one High Court case in which NHS England agreed to compensate a GP after informing a broadcaster that she was under investigation.
The GP was the subject of an investigation in respect of her record keeping. NHS England had given her an unequivocal assurance that the inquiry would be handled in a private and confidential manner. However, it later issued a press release to the broadcaster, publicising the investigation. An NHS England official made a statement in front of a camera and the broadcaster published news reports, on air and online, stating that the GP was the focus of a fraud inquiry.
The investigation was subsequently closed, due to the press attention that the matter had received, and no further action was taken. The GP was therefore presumed to be innocent. Lawyers on her behalf issued proceedings against NHS England, alleging misuse of private information, breach of confidence and violations of the Data Protection Act 1998.
In agreeing to pay her damages, NHS England accepted that it had acted wrongfully and that it should never have released any information about the investigation to the media. The body offered her its profound and sincere apologies for the distress she had suffered. The amount of damages payable was not disclosed.