House of Commons Library

Patient health records and confidentiality

Published Monday, April 25, 2016

House of Commons Library briefing on patient health records and confidentiality.

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Individuals have a right to access their own health records, and in limited circumstances, access to the records of other people. The Government has made a commitment that patients should gain access to their health records within 21 days following a request. Access to health records may also be granted in limited circumstances for relatives or in the case of deceased patients. This briefing describes how patients may request access to their records, and the circumstances in which access to the records of others may be allowed. It also describes statutory and public interest disclosures of patient information; information sharing rules for people who lack mental capacity; and access to information on hereditary conditions for relatives.

The Government has encouraged the NHS to make better use of technology, so that patients can manage their own healthcare needs, whilst ensuring that data remains safe at all times. The Government has committed to making all patient and care records digital, real-time and interoperable by 2020. There will be a staged approach to electronic health records - by 2016 all patients should be able to access their own GP electronic record online in full, seeing not just a summary of their allergies and medication but blood test results, appointment records and medical histories. By 2018 this record will include information from all their health and care interactions. By 2020, the NHS has committed to be “paper-free at the point of care”.

Additionally, the NHS is introducing Summary Care Records - electronic health records of essential patient data - to enable healthcare staff across the country to provide immediate care and treatment. As of February 2016, 55.06 million people have had a Summary Care Record created.

NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre will also introduce the programme, a national collection of anonymous patient data to enable population-level analysis of health trends. The national roll-out of will begin once a pathfinder exercise has taken place.

The briefing also outlines safeguarding arrangements for confidential patient information. In 2013, a review was carried out by the National Data Guardian for health and care, Dame Fiona Caldicott, to ensure that there is an appropriate balance between the protection of patient information and the use and sharing of information to improve care. In September 2015, the Health Secretary commissioned the CQC to carry out a review into standards of data security for patients’ confidential data across the NHS, for which the National Data Guardian will develop guidelines for data protection.

This briefing relates to the NHS in England.



Commons Briefing papers SN07103

Author: Elizabeth Parkin

Topics: Data protection, Health services, Medical ethics, Mental health, Patient rights and complaints

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