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ICO reports on community healthcare providers’ data handling

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published a report looking at how community healthcare providers approach data protection.

Community providers are an increasingly important part of the NHS, providing cradle to grave services worth over £11 billion a year. But they often involve staff working at remote locations or off-site entirely. This brings particular data protection challenges.

The report provides an analysis of data breaches in the sector that shows a trend of information being ‘disclosed in error’ - a problem that can be addressed by following the tips in the report.

The ICO good practice team’s programme of audit and information risk reviews from October 2013 to date included four audits and three information risk reviews of community health providers. That experience informed the top five tips included in the report:

  1. Know what you hold and where: be aware of what personal data you hold, and map where it goes.

  2. Ensure staff awareness of basic security: this is key to reducing the number of serious data breaches.

  3. Don’t forget training: the off-site nature of work of a large number of community healthcare roles means there can be a low uptake of training.

  4. Develop guidelines for taking patient information off site: this is clearly an area of information risk, and it is key that staff are thinking about how information is looked after when it leaves the office.

  5. Ensure central oversight of the records management process: the wide geographic area covered by many providers means records management can be fragmented and inconsistent.

ICO Lead Auditor Carol Knights said:

“Community healthcare providers are at the forefront of the move to integrate and co-ordinate NHS services. They can offer innovative and effective methods of delivering healthcare but it’s crucial that innovation comes with an understanding of the risk to people’s information.

"The series of visits we carried out was reassuring, and suggest there is an understanding of data protection. But there’s always room to improve. The tips we’ve published today should prove invaluable to community healthcare providers, as well as being useful reading for anyone whose role involves handling patient information.”