Managing an organisation’s reputation – data privacy in the NHS
In this article we look at the principles that guide the NHS, the public’s perception of the NHS, risks to the reputation of the NHS, and ways to improve processes in accord with the NHS’ best practice, best value and accountability objectives.
What does the NHS stand for?
There are values and principles written into the constitution of the NHS.
The six values in the NHS Constitution are:
Working together for patients
Commitment to quality of care
Respect and dignity
The seven principles that guide the NHS include:
The NHS aspires to the highest standards of excellence and professionalism
The NHS is committed to providing best value for taxpayers’ money
The NHS is accountable to the public, communities and patients that it serves
Clearly, working together, best practice, best value and accountability are central to the aims of the NHS, and are ideals that inform its reputation.
Public perception of the NHS: sentiment vs experience
Public sympathy for NHS staff and other care givers was highly visible and passionately expressed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Owing to its heritage and its values, the NHS occupies a special place in people’s hearts and minds.
However, while the public has strong positive feelings about the NHS, satisfaction with service levels is declining.
In 2022, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust published analysis of the 2021 British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA) which found that public satisfaction with how the health service runs has fallen to 36 percent, the lowest since 1997 and a fall of 17 percent since 2020.
Support for the principles of the NHS remains strong, with 94 percent believing the NHS should remain free of charge, 86 percent saying it should be primarily funded through taxation and 83 percent agreeing the service should be available to everyone.
Challenges faced and the scale of shortfalls
The key points made in the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust analysis are:
The NHS has been under serious pressure and ‘running hot’ for many years, having seen NHS spending increase far below average between 2009 and 2019, contributing to staff vacancies, an ageing estate and a waiting list of over 4.4 million when the pandemic began.
The pandemic has exacerbated these problems and seen the waiting list rise to over 6 million.
The winter [of 2021] and the latest performance figures magnify those pressures and show why there needs to be honesty about the challenges the NHS faces in the face of public satisfaction in the service lowering.
The commentary concludes that there is “the need for honesty” that in some aspects of service high delivery standards are not being met, despite best efforts, and calls on the government to avoid inflating expectations around what the NHS can deliver beyond what it’s possible for staff to deliver.
The public’s primary focus is naturally on clinical performance but its attention is also drawn to administrative shortcomings and failures.
Obsolete data handling processes
While reports on NHS performance constantly highlight a shortage of both staff and funds in relation to its medical work, the same shortages have an impact on administrative operations.
In 2022, The British Medical Journal reported on “failures by NHS data users to comply with the terms of their agreements for managing and using data they received from NHS Digital.”
The report highlights the fact that there has been a heavy reliance on what had been common approaches for many years, and identifies unsecure practices in the way that data is shared, managed and protected.
Data sensitivity and reputational damage
While the medical community reviews its data practices calmly and methodically in order to improve processes, it is a different matter when privacy breaches are made public.
In the summer of 2021, news about the private data of NHS patients being wrongly shared with strangers made the headlines on television and in the press. The tabloid press was brutally critical of the NHS, and the facts did not make comfortable reading even in restrained articles.
The revelations included the case of a person’s HIV status being released, and another in which strangers turned up at a woman’s door to let her know her private details had been mistakenly sent to other patients.
In some cases, the NHS had to pay thousands of pounds in compensation as a result of the errors.
Statistics from the Information Commissioner’s Office show that 3,557 personal data breaches were reported across the health sector, the majority within the NHS, in the two years to March 2021.
Technology to relieve the strain on resources and support best practice objectives
Clinicians naturally seek to implement clinical best practice. Security Directors and Data Compliance Officers also seek to achieve best practice, but may take longer to act when budgets are stretched, and it is not so immediately obvious that lives are at risk.
Facit recently highlighted the increase in attacks on NHS staff, which has prompted wider use of video cameras to deter assaults and capture evidence. Read more.
The medical sector has experienced a sharp increase in demands for its data, often for research purposes, and also in order to fulfil data subject access requests (DSARs). The increase in DSAR demands for documents and video footage is driven by the public’s greater awareness of its privacy rights as a result of GDPR publicity, as well as by the increasing involvement of lawyers and insurance companies in patient claims.
Whenever anyone’s personal data is shared, it must be shared compliantly, which means that on no account can the personal data of anyone else be revealed.
Facit provides software solutions that eliminate the risk of privacy breaches. Facit’s video redaction software, Identity Cloak, is widely used in the NHS and public sector to mask people’s identities and remove other identifying information. Our document redaction software uniquely removes third-party data and makes it impossible for readers to reverse the process and reveal sensitive data.
Smart technology incorporating AI enables users to achieve more with less. The cost of implementing an in-house data privacy solution is typically less than the cost of manually redacting or outsourcing two or three videos.
Deploying the right technology helps the NHS to meet its best practice, best value and accountability objectives.