UK: ICO reports on community healthcare providers’ data protection

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has today 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. Mental health trusts were not included in the analyses.  Of note, only 8%  (34) of all of the reports the ICO saw related to community health providers, and

  • 24 of these related to paper based information
  • Only 5 of these related to deliberate or reckless disclosure or unauthorised access. Most related to information lost, disclosed or mislaid in error
  • 10 related to digital information, of which 9 were categorised as disclosed in error
  • In cases where electronic information was involved, more information was generally disclosed per breach reported.

The ICO offered the following tips:

  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.

SOURCE: Information Commissioner’s Office

A previous version of this post incorrectly reported the time period for the review and audits.

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