Order for NHS to share confidential patient info renewed for four months

Sajid Javid signs off fifth renewal of pandemic-response measure first introduced in March 2020

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NHS bodies remain under ministerial orders to share confidential patient information to help manage the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, health secretary Sajid wrote to GP surgeries, NHS England, and NHS Digital to advise them of the ongoing need to process and share patient data under the Control of Patient Information (COPI) regulations. The notice marks the extension of emergency measures which were first introduced by Javid’s predecessor Matt Hancock in March 2020, and have now been renewed five times.

Each renewal has set a time limit for the data-sharing order of between five and seven months. The latest extension – which runs for four months, until 31 October – is the shortest to date.

General practices and the NHS are instructed by Javid that the latest notice “requires that data is shared for purposes of coronavirus [and] effective compliance with the notice will be demonstrated by use of the OpenSafely data analytics platform”.

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OpenSafely is an open-source analytics platform jointly developed at the start of the pandemic by the NHS, academic institutions, and the two largest providers of primary-care patient-records systems: EMIS and TPP.

Data is pseudonymised and cannot be downloaded or shared by researchers, but rather is stored in secure datacentre facilities operated by the two clinical systems firms – which collectively hold a market share of 90% of market for GP IT systems. 

“As we move away from the initial response to Covid-19, the health and social care system will need to continue to take action to manage and mitigate the spread and impact of the outbreak,” Javid said, in his letter. “I hereby provide recipients with notice… that I require you to process confidential patient information, including disseminating to a person or organisation permitted to process confidential patient information under… COPI for the purposes… [of supporting] the response to Covid-19.”

Covid-19-related purposes include supporting contact tracing, research, delivery of care, monitoring of response, and future planning.


Sam Trendall

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