Problems experienced by commissioners due to a restriction on how much patient identifiable data they can access will soon be resolved, the health secretary has said.

Speaking at a press briefing to unveil the government’s response to the Caldicott review into information governance across health and social care, the health secretary acknowledged restrictions on the use of data did lead to problems and he insisted negotiations to find a permanent solution were ongoing.

Commissioners have found restrictions on patient identifiable data being used for purposes not directly relating to patient care have left them uncertain about how they can carry out tasks such as checking invoices from providers with whom they have no contract.

Responding to a question from HSJ, Jeremy Hunt said: “I am very conscious about some of the practical problems on the ground. We have got to sort that out very soon, I can’t tell you an exact date.

“No, it [a permanent solution] is not going to be months.”

Mr Hunt announced that the government “accepts all the recommendations of the Caldicott report and highlights that while information sharing is essential to provide good care for everyone, there are rules that must be followed”.

NHS Clinical Commissioners said it welcomed Mr Hunt’s statement that “a permanent solution will not take months” but added that “commissioners need action now”.

co-chair of the NHSCC leadership group. Steve Kell said: “This is highly complex and until solutions are developed CCGs will continue to be unable to deliver statutory functions.Our members continue to raise issues of concern about this with us.”

Mr Hunt also announced he expected a third of accident and emergency departments and 111 call centres to have access to GP patient records by the end of 2014.

He said: “I am expecting that around a third of A&Es will be able to access GP patient records by the end of next year and around a third of 111 call centres will be able to do so as well.

“That is what the minister has said needs to happen and so people will have to cross lots of bridges to make those kinds of changes happen.”

As exclusively revealed by HSJ in March, the main plank of Dame Fiona’s review was to introduce a new duty to share information between agencies where it is in a patient’s best interests.

Dame Fiona said: “The commitment expressed by the government to protecting confidentiality and responding to the wishes of anyone using health or social care services about how they want their information used is extremely heartening. 

“What this means in practice is spelt out in the confidentiality guide which is being published today. 

“Coupled with the scrutiny work that my panel has been commissioned to undertake, I am confident that we can make great strides in terms of putting the patient and service user at the forefront of concerns about safely sharing information.”

The five rules of patient confidentiality

The Health and Social Care Information Centre has today published guidelines to help NHS trusts, commissioners and councils implement and understand the guidelines as well as to inform patients.

  1. Confidential information about service users or patients should be treated confidentially and respectfully.
  2. Members of a care team should share confidential information when it is needed for the safe and effective care of individuals.
  3. Information that is shared for the benefit of the community should be anonymised.
  4. An individual’s right to object to the sharing of confidential information about them should be respected.
  5. Organisations should put policies, procedures and systems in place to ensure the confidentiality rules are followed.