ICO slaps NHSBT for wrong organ donor data

Ten years, thousands of cockups

The Information Commissioner's Office has reprimanded NHS Blood and Transplant for wrongly recording organ donation preferences over a decade.

The ICO said that in March 2010 NHSBT, which manages the Organ Donation Register (ODR), found irregularities between donation preferences stated on Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) application forms and the data recorded on the register.

Further investigation showed that there was an ODR software error dating back to 1999, which affected the recording of specific organ preferences from the DVLA. Once the error was discovered, NHSBT halted use of DVLA data files and an independent investigation was commissioned by NHSBT, carried out by Professor Sir Gordon Duff. It informed the ICO and the public in April 2010.

In October last year, Duff's review said that the donations of 25 people had been affected by the error. He concluded that the error had been avoidable if systematic data verification procedures had been in place in 1999. Duff explained in his report that the fault was able to go undetected for so long because for many years the ODR was not consulted as part of the process of establishing consent for organ transplantation.

"Until consultation with the ODR started to become more routine it appears not to have been seen as a business critical system and consequently it seems that resources and scrutiny were concentrated on other priorities," he said.

In a written ministerial statement, published last October, health secretary Andrew Lansley said he was happy with Duff's independent review and the recommendations he offered.

The information watchdog acknowledged that the vast majority of the data during the error period was accurate, and that a number of patients were contacted directly in order to ensure that their original preferences were accurate.

NHSBT has now signed an undertaking, which commits the organisation to being "more robust in checking information is accurate".

Mick Gorrill, head of enforcement at the ICO, said: "The decision to donate an organ is a significant one and it is important that the preferences of the donors are recorded accurately. In this case errors were made in the recording of the donor's wishes.

"I welcome the NHSBT's commitment to correcting the inaccurate data and their willingness to make sure this type of incident does not happen again by introducing a variety of new security measures."

NHSBT will also continue to write to all new registered entrants to give them a chance to report any errors, as well as inviting an external organisation with experience of running large databases to conduct a review of its proposed new control systems.

This article was originally published at Kable.

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