Commitment to balance patient safety and privacy

The government’s full response to the Caldicott review on information governance has been published confirming the commitment to balance patient safety and privacy.

Guidance from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, also published today, sets out the responsibilities of health and care staff towards personal confidential data.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

“Having the right information about patients means professionals can make sure they get the right care and treatment. Without that information, research to find new cures and therapies for killer diseases and other conditions would not be possible.

“And sharing means people don’t have to repeat themselves constantly to each doctor, nurse, physiotherapist or care assistant they need to deal with.”

The government response accepts all the recommendations of the original Caldicott report and highlights that while information sharing is essential to provide good care for everyone, only the minimum amount of information should be shared and there must be strict rules to govern it.

Jeremy Hunt made it clear:

“If someone has an objection to their information being shared beyond their own care, it will be respected. All they have to do in that case is speak to their GP and their information won’t leave the GP surgery.”

There are 2 reasons for sharing personal confidential data:

  • Safety: The government agrees with the Caldicott Review that sharing information in the right way is critical for making sure patients get the right care.
  • Health and care planning and research: The government recognises that patient information is important for scientists researching the latest drugs and treatments, as well as for planning local health services. Anyone who does not wish to have their information shared for this reason will have their objection respected. All they have to do is speak to their GP, and their data will not leave their GP surgery.

The government response sets out the responsibilities of different organisations in health and care when it comes to keeping patient information safe and secure. This includes:

  • new guidance on sharing data securely, to make sure crucial information is shared with the right people at the right time
  • making sure health and care staff have appropriate training and education on information governance so they can make the right decisions
  • being open and honest if a data breach happens and taking action to prevent it happening again
  • making sure each organisation has a ‘Caldicott Guardian’ or lead on information governance

Dame Fiona Caldicott, who is chairing a new group to help make sure the NHS keeps to high standards on information sharing, said:

“The commitment expressed by the government to protecting confidentiality and responding to the wishes of anyone using health or social care services about how they want their information used is extremely heartening. What this means in practice is spelt out in the Confidentiality Guide which is being published today. 

“Coupled with the scrutiny work that my panel has been commissioned to undertake, I am confident that we can make great strides in terms of putting the patient and service user at the forefront of concerns about safely sharing information.”

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