Subject Access Requests

Introduction

The law states that NHS organisations must, when requested by an individual, give that person access to their personal information, and occasionally, certain relevant information pertaining to others. In order to do this, we have procedures in-place that allow for easy retrieval and assimilation of this information.

The practice policy defines a process for achieving legislative requirements and ensuring effective and consistent management of such requests.

The policy ensures that all staff are aware of how a subject access request should be made and to respond quickly.

The main areas of relevant legislation are:

  • The Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998 to be subsumed by General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) on 25th May 2018
  • The Access to Health Records Act 1990

Under the Data Protection Act, subject to certain conditions, an individual is entitled to be:

  • Told whether any personal data is being processed;
  • Given a description of the personal data, the reasons it is being processed, and
  • whether it will be given to any other organisations or people; and
  • Given a copy of the information comprising the data; and given details of the source of the data (where this is available).

The Data Protection Act extends equally to all relevant records relating to living individuals, including records held in the private health sector and health professionals’ private practice records.

Personal data held by the practice may be:-

  • Personnel/Staff records relating to a member of staff, present, past or prospective, whether permanent, temporary or volunteer.
  • Health records consisting of information about the physical or mental health of an identifiable individual made by, or on behalf of, a health professional in connection with the care of that individual.

What constitutes a health record?

A health record could include, and not exhaustively, hand-written clinical notes, letters between clinicians, lab reports, radiographs and imaging, videos, tape recordings, photographs and monitoring printouts. Records can be held in either manual or computerised medias.

What constitutes a personnel record?

A personnel record could include, and not exhaustively, details held on your personnel file such as recruitment records, appraisals, references, PAYE records and professional/training certificates. Records can be held in either manual or computerised medias.

The Data Protection Act 1998

This scope of this Act includes the right of patients or staff to request information on their own medical or personnel records.

Requests for information under this Act must:

  • Be in writing (emails are acceptable) to the data controller, the practice manager using our form (however this is not mandatory). Verbal requests can be accepted where the individual is unable to put the request in writing – this must be noted on the patient record);
  • Be accompanied with sufficient proof of identity to satisfy the data controller and to enable them to locate the correct information (where requests are made on behalf of another, the data controller must satisfy themselves that correct and adequate consent has been given);

The data controller is to check whether the entire individual’s health or personnel record information is required or just certain aspects.

Where an information request has been previously fulfilled, the data controller does not have to honour the same request again unless a reasonable time-period has elapsed. It is up to the data controller to ascertain what constitutes as reasonable.

Requests for health records information are to be recorded internally on the register and in the patient medical record. All requests are to be fulfilled within one calendar month (unless under exceptional circumstances – the applicant must be informed where a longer period is required). Information given should be in a manner that is
intelligible to the individual.

Access encompasses the following rights:-

  • To obtain a copy of the record in permanent form
  • To have information provided in an intelligible format (and explained where necessary)

The Data Protection Act also gives subjects who now reside outside the UK the right to apply for access to their former UK health and employment records:

  • Employees are legally entitled to request their personal records and may take them outside of the UK at their own discretion.
  • Original health records should not be given to people to keep/take outside the UK. A GP or community health professional may be prepared to provide the patient with a summary of treatment; alternatively the patient may make a request for access in the usual way.

The practice must have procedures in place to ensure that individual’s rights of access are met within a timely and appropriate fashion.

Individual’s rights regarding the sharing of their personal information are supported by the care record guarantees, which set out high-level commitments for protecting and safeguarding service user information, particularly in regard to individuals’ rights of access to their own information, how information will be shared (both within and outside of the organisation) and how decisions on sharing information will be made.

In the response to the Caldicott 2 Report, the Department of Health confirmed that service users should have access to information about themselves even if it was obtained through new or non-traditional approaches (for example, virtual consultations) to delivering health and care services.

The BMA Confidentiality and Health Records Toolkit helps identify the key factors to take into consideration when making a decision around confidentiality and disclosure of health records.

Scope

This policy applies to any request by a patient or member of staff for access to their personal information held by the practice.

Who can make an access request?

An application for access to personal data may be made to the practice by any of the following:-

  • an individual
  • a person authorised by the individual in writing to make the application on an individual’s behalf e.g. solicitor, family member, carer
  • a person having parental responsibility for the individual where he/she is a child.
  • a person appointed by a court to manage the affairs of an individual who is deemed incompetent
  • individuals who hold a health and welfare Lasting Power of Attorney
  • where the individual has died, the personal representative and any person who may have a claim arising out of the individual’s death (the executor of the deceased’s will; someone who has been appointed as an Administrator of the Estate by the Courts; someone who has the written consent of either of the above to be given access, someone who is in the process of challenging the deceased’s will)

The police may, on occasion, request access to personal data of individuals. Whilst there is an exemption in the Data Protection Act which permits the practice to disclose information to support the prevention and detection of crime, the police have no automatic right to access; however they can obtain a court order.

Parental responsibility for a child is defined in the Children’s Act 1989 as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority, which by law a parent of a child has in relation to a child and his property’. Although not defined specifically, responsibilities would include safeguarding and promoting a child’s health, development and welfare, including if relevant their employment records. Included in the parental rights which would fulfil the parental responsibilities above are:

  • Having the child live with the person with responsibility, or having a say in where the child lives
  • If the child is not living with her/him, having a personal relationship and regular contact with the child;
  • Controlling, guiding and directing the child’s upbringing.

Foster parents are not ordinarily awarded parental responsibility for a child. It is more likely that this responsibility rests with the child’s social worker and appropriate evidence of identity should be sought in the usual way.

The law regards young people aged 16 or 17 to be adults for the purposes of consent to employment or treatment and the right to confidentiality. Therefore, if a 16 year old wishes their information to remain confidential then that wish must be respected.

In some certain cases, children under the age of 16 who have the capacity and understanding to take decisions about their own treatment are also entitled to decide whether personal information may be passed on and generally to have their confidence respected.

Where a child is considered capable of making decisions, e.g. about his/her employment or medical treatment, the consent of the child must be sought before a person with parental responsibility may be given access. Where, in the view of the appropriate professional, the child is not capable of understanding the nature of the application, the holder of the record is entitled to deny access if it is not felt to be in the patient’s best interests.

The identity and consent of the applicant must always be established.

The applicant does not have to give a reason for applying for access.

The practice is a data controller and can only provide information held by the organisation. Data controllers in their own right must be applied to directly, the practice will not transfer requests from one organisation to another.

Fees and response time

Under GDPR the practice has to provide information free of charge. However, the practice may charge a “reasonable fee” when a request is manifestly unfounded or excessive, particularly if it is repetitive.

The fee will be based on the administrative cost of providing the information only.

Subject access requests are to be passed to and managed by the practice manager, where necessary they are to seek the advice of the practice manager should clarification be needed when releasing information.

The request must be complied with without delay and at least within one calendar month of receipt of the request. This period can be extended for a further two months where requests are complex or numerous, however the practice will inform the individual within one month of receipt of the request and explain why the extension is necessary.

The identity of an individual who provided/recorded information should not be disclosed, nor should the identity of any other person/s referred to in the record(s) of the individual requesting access, unless explicit consent has been given.

The release stage

The format of the released information is to be agreed with the requester.

The release of a health record is subject to consultation with either:-

  • The health professional who is currently, or was most recently, responsible for the clinical care of the data subject in connection with the information which is the subject of the request.
  • Where there is more than one such health professional, the health professional who is the most suitable to advise on the information which is the subject of the request.

Once the records have been collated, redacted where applicable and signed off by the assistant practice manager, they should be made available to the requester. On no account must the original record be released.

The requestor is to be advised that they are to collect their records from the practice if this is impracticable then the records are to be sent by recorded delivery.

In denying or restricting access, a reason for the decision does not need to be given but the applicant should be directed through the appropriate complaint channels.

Where information is not readily intelligible, an explanation (e.g. of abbreviations or terminology) must be given.

If it is agreed that the subject or their representative may directly inspect the record a member of staff must supervise the access. If supervised by a non-clinical member of staff, this person must not comment or advise on the content of the record and if the applicant raises enquiries, an appointment with a clinician must be offered.

Exemptions

Access may be denied or restricted where:

  • The record contains information which relates to or identifies a third party that is not a care professional and has not consented to the disclosure. If possible, the individual should be provided with access to that part of the record which does not contain the third party information.
  • Access to all or part of the record will prejudice the carrying out of social work by reason of the fact that serious harm to the physical or mental well-being of  the individual or any other person is likely. If possible the individual should be provided with access to that part of the record that does not post the risk of serious harm.
  • Access to all or part of the record will seriously harm the physical or mental well-being of the individual or any other person. If possible the individual should be provided with access to that part of the record that does not pose the risk of serious harm.
  • If an assessment identifies that to comply with a SAR would involve disproportionate effort under section 8(2)(a) of the Data Protection Act refers.

There is no requirement to disclose to the applicant the fact that certain information may have been withheld.

Complaints and Appeals

The applicant has the right to appeal against the decision of the practice to refuse access to their information. This appeal should be made to the practice manager.

If an applicant is unhappy with the outcome of their access request they are to be referred to the practice manager who will arrange an appointment to meet with the individual to try and resolve any issues.

If an individual remains unhappy with the practice response, they have the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office:

Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF

Telephone: 0303 123 1113

Equality Impact

In applying this policy, the organisation will have due regard for the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, promote equality of opportunity, and provide for good relations between people of diverse groups, in particular on the grounds of the following characteristics protected by the Equality Act (2010); age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation, in addition to offending background, trade union membership, or any other personal characteristic.