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Suspended: nurse obsessed with accessing people’s medical records

NMC sanctions Band 6 nurse Elizabeth Ashton for looking up records of relatives, neighbours and a colleague – when none of them was in her care
NMC suspends Band 6 nurse who accessed non-patients' medical records

NMC sanctions Band 6 nurse Elizabeth Ashton for looking up records of relatives, neighbours and a colleague – when none of them was in her care

This article was updated on 20 June 2022

A senior nurse who became obsessed with looking up medical records of relatives ‘out of curiosity’ has been suspended from practice for six months by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

Elizabeth Ashton was working as a Band 6 sister at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield when she accessed the records of seven patients , including family members, without permission.

One man’s records were accessed more than 50 times in a year

A fitness to practise hearing on

NMC sanctions Band 6 nurse Elizabeth Ashton for looking up records of relatives, neighbours and a colleague – when none of them was in her care

This article was updated on 20 June 2022

NMC suspends Band 6 nurse who accessed non-patients' medical records
Picture: Barney Newman

A senior nurse who became obsessed with looking up medical records of relatives ‘out of curiosity’ has been suspended from practice for six months by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

Elizabeth Ashton was working as a Band 6 sister at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield when she accessed the records of seven patients, including family members, without permission.

One man’s records were accessed more than 50 times in a year

A fitness to practise hearing on 9 June found Ms Ashton breached patient privacy and confidentiality by looking at the medical records of a male relative more than 50 times in one year. She accessed records of a colleague and admitted looking up records of former neighbours to see their addresses.

‘I am very ashamed by my actions. I have let my former profession down and am genuinely sorry for my indiscretions’

Elizabeth Ashton

Ms Ashton was referred to the NMC by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in December 2020 after a relative – known as Patient A – complained the nurse had accessed his medical records and shared information with others.

A trust investigation found she had accessed the man’s records 58 times and had looked up records of six others, including an infant. None of the individuals involved were in Ms Ashton’s care and with she had no clinical reason to look at their records.

Nurse’s obsession amounted to an abuse of privilege

In a statement, she told the NMC panel: ‘I am very ashamed by my actions and believe I became obsessed with accessing his [her relative’s] records although not to read any information, just to see if he was due a hospital appointment.

‘Any other people or patients I have accessed has been out of curiosity – I have never used or imparted any information to any other person.’

A lawyer representing the NMC told the panel the registrant was a nurse with a ‘flippant attitude’ in a position of authority who abused her privilege.

The NMC found Ms Ashton’s actions amounted to misconduct. She has been suspended from the register for six months with an interim 18-month suspension order pending any appeal.

The nurse acknowledged she had ‘let everyone down’ but stressed she had not acted with malice or intention to pass on any information.

‘I am aware I have let my former profession down by my actions and I am aware of the gravity of the situation and am genuinely sorry for my indiscretions.’

Guidance and training for staff

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals trust chief nurse Chris Morley said: ‘We take patient confidentiality very seriously and all staff are provided with training and clear guidance to ensure the rules are adhered to.

‘We are aware which patients’ records the nurse accessed and individuals involved have been informed and a formal apology given.’

He gave an assurance that no one’s care or treatment had been affected.

This article was updated to include a statement from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


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