NHSX has emphasised the importance of information sharing as part of its guidance on responding to the spread of coronavirus.
The policy unit for digital that sits within the Department for Health and Social Care has published its information governance guidance with an emphasis on mobile messaging, video conferencing, home working and health and care workers using their own devices.
It says Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has told the organisation that she cannot envisage a situation in which she would take action against a health and care professional trying to deliver care.
Advice from NHSX, which it says has been endorsed by Denham, the National Data Guardian and NHS Digital, says it is fine to use mobile messaging to communicate with colleagues and patients. This includes commercial, off-the-shelf applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram where this is no practical alternative.
“The important thing, as always,” it says, “is to consider what type of information you are sharing and with whom.”
It encourages the use of video conferencing with patients and service users, again taking in commodity products such as Skype, WhatsApp and Facetime, and saying it can involve using personal devices.
Patient consent is implied by them accepting the invitation and entering the consultation.
The organisation points to the likely need of some healthcare professionals to use online channels to work from home and says they should check that internet access is secure and any security features are in use.
In an official statement, Elizabeth Denham said: “Data protection and electronic communication laws do not stop government, the NHS or any other health professionals from sending public health messages to people, either by phone, text or email as these messages are not direct marketing.
“Nor does it stop them using the latest technology to facilitate safe and speedy consultations and diagnoses. Public bodies may require additional collection and sharing of personal data to protect against serious threats to public health.
“The ICO is a reasonable and pragmatic regulator, one that does not operate in isolation from matters of serious public concern. Regarding compliance with data protection, we will take into account the compelling public interest in the current health emergency.”