Sharing and processing patient information in this time of coronavirus

Secretary of State’s latest decision ensures that health organisations, arm’s length bodies and local authorities are able to process and share the data they need to respond to coronavirus.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has issued four Notices requiring that data is shared by healthcare organisations, GPs, local authorities and arm’s length bodies to support efforts against coronavirus. These Notices are effective from 1 April.

The Notice issued under the Health Service Control of Patient Information Regulations 2002 gives health organisations and local authorities the “security and confidence” to share confidential patient information amongst health organisations and other bodies engaged in disease surveillance for the “…purposes of research, protecting public health, providing healthcare services to the public and monitoring and managing the Covid-19 outbreak and incidents of exposure.”

Health organisations will be required to process confidential patient information and keep a record of all data processed under these Notices. The Notices will be reviewed on or before 30 September 2020 and may be extended but if no further Notice is sent, then the requirements for sharing data will come to an end on 30 September.

Compliance with data protection standards

Even in these extraordinary times, healthcare data controllers and processors are reminded of the need “to comply with relevant and appropriate data protection standards and to ensure within reason that they operate within statutory and regulatory boundaries.”  

The expectation is that health organisations will share information within the legal framework under the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) – and ensure one or more of the conditions under Articles 6 and 9 are met. Article 6 refers to the lawful grounds for processing personal data and Article 9 the processing of personal data concerning health which fall within the ‘special categories’ of data.

Last month, the ICO issued some statements intended to reassure health and care practitioners that are under pressure as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, requiring them to share information quickly and adapt the way they work. The ICO's stance is outlined in our article here.

NHSX also published governance advice, setting out the tools that healthcare professionals can use to support individual care, share information and communicate with colleagues during the pandemic.

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