Coronavirus and sharing health data

Healthcare professionals: the test is not how you share it but what information you share and who you share it with.

In the context of the coronavirus outbreak, NHS Digital and NHSX have decided to extend the deadline by six months for health and social care systems to comply with the national data opt-out system to 30 September 2020, at which point they will review the position. You can read NHS Digital and NHSX’s letter here.

For those organisations that are already compliant with the national data opt-out scheme they should continue as they see appropriate and organisations that are working towards compliance may continue to do so, if resources permit and are “confident” that work will not impact their response to coronavirus. 

The national data opt-out is a service that allows patients to opt-out of their confidential patient information being used for research and planning. It does not apply to the disclosure of confidential patient information where there is an “…overriding public interest in the disclosure”. NHSX and NHS Digital say that it will not apply to data sharing for the purposes of responding to the coronavirus.

Sharing information appropriately during the Covid-19 outbreak

NHS X has reminded healthcare professionals that, in the current circumstances, it could be more harmful not to share health and care information than to share it. The ICO has provided assurance on this issue which healthcare professionals should take comfort from that they “…cannot envisage a situation where ... would take action against a health and care professional clearly trying to deliver care.” You can read the ICO statement here, alongside our blog here.

Working in different ways

So, what does this mean? NHS Digital say the focus should be what information you share and who you share it with, rather than how you share it.

In NHSX’s latest governance advice, they set out the tools that you can use to support individual care, share information and communicate with colleagues during the coronavirus outbreak. This advice is endorsed by the ICO, the National Data Guardian and NHS Digital.

A number of mobile messaging tools are highlighted as being fine to use from WhatsApp to Telegram where there is “…no practical alternative and the benefits outweigh the risk.”

To assist with patient consultations, the ICO encourage professionals to use video conferencing tools, such as: WhatsApp, Facetime and Skype as well as bespoke commercial products.

But a word of caution.

The criteria being “… is to consider what type of information you are sharing and with whom. And as much as possible limit the use of personal/ confidential patient information.”

There is also advice if you are homeworking and the steps healthcare professionals need to take if using their own devices to support video conferencing and mobile messaging.

Do get in touch with Stuart Knowles, Jill Weston or Claire Williams if you would like to discuss any information governance questions with us.

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