Amid Kate frenzy, hospital responds to Catherine's reported medical-records breach

A silhouette showing the side of Catherine's head against a large window
The London Clinic came under fire Tuesday after the Daily Mirror reported that at least one staff member attempted to illegally access private medical records of Catherine, Princess of Wales. (Suzanne Plunkett / Associated Press)

The London Clinic, the hospital where the Princess of Wales recently had abdominal surgery, says it has no place on staff "for those who intentionally breach the trust" of any of its patients or colleagues.

The Marylebone, London, medical facility came under fire Tuesday after the Daily Mirror reported that at least one staff member attempted to illegally access Catherine's private medical records amid the firestorm surrounding the British princess' health and well-being after her January surgery. On Wednesday, the Mirror and ITV News reported that "up to three people" could be involved in the alleged accessing of the princess' medical records and that they are facing "disciplinary steps."

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"Everyone at The London Clinic is acutely aware of our individual, professional, ethical and legal duties with regards to patient confidentiality," the hospital's chief executive, Al Russell, said Wednesday in a statement to The Times.

"We take enormous pride in the outstanding care and discretion we aim to deliver for all our patients that put their trust in us every day," Russell added. "We have systems in place to monitor management of patient information and, in the case of any breach, all appropriate investigatory, regulatory and disciplinary steps will be taken. There is no place at our hospital for those who intentionally breach the trust of any of our patients or colleagues.”

Russell did not make any direct references to the princess or her case. The Mirror reported that an investigation had been launched over the breach, but a spokesperson for the hospital did not respond to The Times' request for confirmation.

A black logo on light stone wall reads 'the London clinic, inspired care' underneath a modified cadeuceus
Catherine, Princess of Wales, had unspecified abdominal surgery at the London Clinic in England's capital city in January. (Kin Cheung / Associated Press)

Representatives for Kensington Palace did not immediately respond Wednesday to The Times' request for comment. However, in a statement to the Associated Press, the palace said: "This is a matter for The London Clinic."

The princess formerly known as Kate Middleton has opted not to disclose details about her condition, wishing that "her personal medical information remains private" upon announcing her hospitalization in mid-January. In a handful of statements relating to her whereabouts — and retreat from royal duties until after March 31 — Kensington Palace confirmed to AP that her condition was not cancer-related and that she had been recovering at her home in Windsor since she was discharged from the London Clinic on Jan. 29 after 13 nights there.

But the dearth of concrete information provided by the palace and lack of public appearances by the senior royal has fueled rampant speculation, frenzied internet obsessions, conspiracy theories and intense public interest into the princess' well-being. The crisis was further compounded by the palace's misstep in releasing a doctored photo of the royal family earlier this month, now affectionately referred to as "Kate-gate," sowing broad distrust in any and all Kate sightings and sourcing. Her husband, Prince William, the heir apparent to the British throne, has continued to carry out his public duties and was spotted with her over the weekend, but has deflected questions about his wife's health.

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Prince William has also stepped in for his father, King Charles III, whose treatment for an enlarged prostate at the hospital overlapped with Catherine's time there. The 75-year-old monarch has also taken a break from public-facing duties due to an undisclosed cancer diagnosis. (He was discharged from the London Clinic within hours of his daughter-in-law.)

The Mirror reported Wednesday that concern over whether the king's medical information was also compromised were dismissed by bosses at the hospital who informed Buckingham Palace that the breach did not involve him.

It is a criminal offense for staff in the U.K.'s National Health Service or its private healthcare settings to access medical records of a patient without consent of the organization's data controller, the Mirror reported. The outlet said that hospital bosses at the facility — known to discreetly treat members of the royal family as well as British government officials and celebrities — launched a probe into allegations that the princess' confidentiality was breached after a staff member "was said to have been caught trying to access the 42-year-old’s notes."

Senior officials at the hospital then notified Kensington Palace of the incident, prompting "a full investigation," the Mirror said.

"This is a major security breach and incredibly damaging for the hospital, given its unblemished reputation for treating members of the Royal Family," the outlet reported, quoting an unnamed source.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, a government-run privacy watchdog that upholds information rights in the public interest, confirmed Wednesday in a statement that it had "received a breach report and [was] assessing the information provided.” On Wednesday, the Mirror reported that London's Metropolitan Police could also be called on for a potential criminal investigation alongside an IOC probe.

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According to the BBC, 10 Downing Street — the prime minister's office — said there are "strict rules on patient data that must be followed."

"I think we all want to get behind the Princess of Wales, and indeed the Prince of Wales, and we obviously wish her the speediest of recoveries," Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's official spokesman told the BBC.

The Mirror also reported that it's understood that Catherine has been "made aware of the alleged incident. AP reported that police have been asked to look into the allegations by Health Minister Maria Caulfield.

“Whether they take action is a matter for them,” Caulfield told LBC radio.

“But the information commissioner can also take prosecutions,” she said. “So there are particularly hefty implications if you are looking at notes for medical records that you should not be looking at.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.