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Nurses told to abide by new stronger rules on patient data

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Nurses must not share passwords or leave patient data onscreen, as part of a new focus on data protection in the NHS.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force on 25 May in the UK, aims to give people more trust and control over how organisations use their data.

“This campaign will highlight to the public how the health and care system uses their data, safely and securely”

Simon Eccles

The NHS is joining the Information Commissioner’s Office’s broader Your Data Matters campaign to raise awareness of how personal information is used by organisations.

While the change has legal implications for health and social care organisations, it also has practical implications for how nurses do their jobs, noted NHS England.

Nurses must keep passwords secret, avoid leaving identifiable patient information on screen, and always log out when they have finished at a computer, it said.

The practical steps nurses need to take emerge as the NHS begins a six week campaign to raise awareness of data protection issues.

The campaign is initially focusing on GDPR, but in early June the focus will shift to the new national data “opt-out” scheme for research or planning purposes.

“The public has a right to know their healthcare data is secure, and how it is being used”

Janet Davies

This will offer people a choice on whether their confidential patient information is used for health research and planning.

The “staged approach” to the new regulations is designed to “support clinicians and ensure messages are reaching the public in a clear and accessible way”, said NHS England.

The campaign is being advertised on commercial radio, in national newspapers and online.

Dr Simon Eccles, the NHS’s chief clinical information officer for health and care, said: “This campaign will highlight to the public how the health and care system uses their data, safely and securely, to improve the care they receive, plan services and research new treatments and to tell the public ‘their data matters to the NHS’.”

Dame Fiona Caldicott, national data guardian, said people wanted data to be used to improve healthcare for themselves and others, but with safeguards built in.

“They also want reassurance – to know that data will be kept safely, to be told how it is being used, and to know what choices they have,” she said.

“They also want reassurance that data will be kept safely and to be told how it is being used”

Fiona Caldicott

She highlighted that a national opt-out for those who did not want their data to be used for research and planning was one of the key recommendations of her 2016 Data Security, Consent and Opt-Out review.

Janet Davies, Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary, welcomed the campaign.

“Sharing data is vital so nurses and other healthcare professionals can develop efficient, targeted services and provide patients with safe and effective care,” she said. “But the public has a right to know their healthcare data is secure, and how it is being used.”

Healthwatch England said that its latest polling indicated that three out of four people backed the idea of their data being used to inform research and improve the delivery of care.

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