• CCG AO and MBC chief executive raises concerns in letter
  • Complains list of shielded patients being withheld from local authorities
  • Calls lack of sharing “counterproductive and frustrating”

Significant concerns about the NHS’ refusal to share data with councils have emerged in a letter from a leading council chief executive and clinical commissioning group accountable officer. 

Steven Pleasant, chief executive of Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council and accountable officer of Tameside and Glossop CCG, said the failures are “becoming increasingly exasperating”, in a letter intended for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s shielding sounding board.

In the letter, seen by Local Government Chronicle and written to Tony Reeves, Liverpool City Council’s chief executive who is leading the north west emergency response to pass upwards, Mr Pleasant raised three separate concerns, which he said he is doing to “support the improvement and refinement” of processes.

Under rules set out on 27 March by the Cabinet Office, which is leading the government’s overall response to information sharing, in conjunction with MHCLG, councils are supposed to be given information for two groups of patients.

This includes those who have requested local authority support and those who, while they have not yet contacted the shielding service, are “known to their local authority in relation to social care services they receive or who are otherwise known by their local authority to be vulnerable”.

For such individuals, councils should be supplied with the name, address, date of birth, phone number and NHS number of patients on the shielded list who live their area.

However, Mr Pleasant expressed dismay the list of shielded patients — those with underlying conditions, who need to be shielded from covid-19 — is being withheld from local authorities.

He said he understands NHS Digital has decided the most recent version of the list cannot be shared with councils even though it is being shared with police, fire, voluntary organisations and companies offering logistical support.

“I am sure that you will appreciate that this is counterproductive and frustrating given that local authorities are leading and coordinating the response to the most vulnerable in communities,” he wrote.

Mr Pleasant described the situation in Tameside, where he holds the dual council and CCG role, as “confusing and incoherent”.

He also expressed bemusement about how the NHS’ shielded patients team is passing on to councils information about people needing additional support — for instance, if the recipient’s food parcel stock is running low, requiring the council to step in. Welfare concerns and medication information could also need to be passed on.

Mr Pleasant said although his council had asked for this information to be provided via email, staff “have been told by the NHS shielding team that they do not have permission to do this and that details can only be provided verbally over the phone”.

“We believe this significantly increases the chances of error and presents significant risk… around incorrect information being captured,” he wrote.

Finally, Mr Pleasant urged the creation of a mechanism to enable councils to pass information about individuals back to the government — for instance, informing them when they no longer wanted food parcels.

“We have tried contacting the distributor and were told they take their instruction from government and will not stop the deliveries until they instruct,” Mr Pleasant wrote.

“We feel it would be extremely helpful to have a mechanism to feedback our support/intelligence on individuals to stop support where it is not needed, prevent duplication and provide effective targeted support.”

He said the data problems are becoming “increasingly exasperating” and reflect similar patterns in covid-19 testing and personal protective equipment where government departments are not working through local resilience forums.

“It is creating lots of confusion for incredibly overstretched people on the ground as well as lots of risk,” he wrote.

Others have also expressed concern.

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council’s director of public health Dominic Harrison last week tweeted concern data collated by the NHS 111 phone line and hospitals on the postcodes of people with suspected covid-19 was not being passed on to councils’ public health teams so “local micro-outbreak hotspots” could be located. LGC has previously reported on this issue.

“The system is struggling to share this data with [directors of public health],” he wrote, and blamed it on a “cultural/behavioural problem” with NHS England.

Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council director of public health Kate Ardern responded to say that after her analysts had requested NHS data they were told two weeks later that “access protocols were still being worked through”. She described the situation as “not acceptable, not good enough”.

LGC put the concerns set out in Mr Pleasant’s letter to NHS Digital. NHS Digital referred the publication to the Cabinet Office, which is leading coordination role across government.

Update: This story was updated at 11:20 to reflect information supplied about the nationally agreed system and to emphasise it is the Cabinet Office which is taking a cross-government lead on this issue.