• National Data Opt Out deadline extended to help coronavirus response
  • NHS organisations now have until September to become compliant
  • New guidance allows clinicians to use mobile messaging apps to share data

NHS organisations have been given an extra six months to comply with a national data sharing scheme after health chiefs extended the deadline due to covid-19.

All health and social care organisations were required to comply with the National Data Opt Out by the end of March. However, on Friday, NHSX and NHS Digital announced the deadline will be moved to September.

Last month, HSJ reported the NHS would likely miss the deadline, according to sources close to the process. The opt out gives patients the power to stop their health provider using their confidential data for commercial, research or planning purposes.

In a letter sent to NHS organisations, NHSX and NHSD said the extension had been granted to give staff time to focus on responding to the covid-19 crisis.

The letter added organisations which are already compliant should “continue as appropriate” while others should work towards compliance if they are “confident that preparation will not impact their response to covid-19”.

The letter also made clear the opt out will not apply to data sharing for the purposes of responding to covid-19, or if there is “overriding public interest” in disclosing data.

The letter, signed by NHSX technology and data strategy director Kathy Hall and NHSD’s executive director of information governance Jackie Gray, reminded organisations “implementation of the national data opt out remains an important element in the longer term work to build public trust for the use of health and care data”.

A spokesman for MedConfidential, a patient data campaign group, said: “The delay is the right thing to do — we’ll see where we are in August.”

Earlier this week, NHSX also granted a six-month extension to NHS organisations in relation to cyber security checks due to covid-19.

Tech bodies give clinicians green light to use Whatsapp 

Healthcare staff have been told they can use Whatsapp to contact colleagues and patients, in official information governance advice published by the NHS.

The advice — which is endorsed by the National Data Guardian, the Information Commissioner’s Office and NHS Digital — stated it is fine for NHS staff to use apps such as Whatsapp to share data “where there is no potential alternative”.

However, they have been warned they should limit the amount of personal and patient information shared over the platform, adding “the benefits must outweigh the risk”.

The advice stated: “It is absolutely fine to use mobile messaging to communicate with colleagues and patients/service users as needed. It is also fine to use commercial, off-the-shelf applications such as Whatsapp and Telegram where there is no practical alternative.

“The important thing, as always, is to consider what type of information you are sharing and with whom. And as much as possible limit the use of personal/confidential patient information.”

Staff have also been told they can use their own devices when working from home “where there is no practical alternative” but they have been urged to check their internet connection is secure.

Digital consultations with patients continue to be encouraged. The advice stated: “The consent of the patient or service user is implied by them accepting the invite and entering the consultation. But you should safeguard personal/confidential patient information in the same way you would with any other consultation.”