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New rules for community healthcare settings sharing patient data with medical examiners

Expansion of the medical examination system to include community settings from April 2023

Medical examiners form an essential healthcare service, in providing scrutiny of causes of death and care before death, which is reported to both the families of the deceased and used to improve healthcare offerings nationally.

In June 2021, Dr Alan Fletcher, national medical examiner, announced an expansion of the medical examination system to include community settings, including GP practices.

The updated system will mean medical practitioners are placed under additional scrutiny when examining the cause of death, intended to improve the quality and accuracy of the medical certificate of death, as well as informing the national data on mortality and patient data.

From a data protection perspective, it is expected that medical examiners will be added to the list of persons with a right of access to patient records in the Access to Health Records Act 1990. This would give the medical examiners access to patient data for the legitimate purpose required to fulfil their duty. Prior to the new system coming into effect, there is a current provision for information governance and data protection under Regulation 5 of the Health Service (Control of Patient Information) Regulations 2002 (‘section 251 support’), allowing the sharing of data for these purposes.

In a statement provided by Maria Caulfield, Minister for Patient Safety and Primary Care, the UK Government announced the updated statutory medical examiner system will be implemented from April 2023. It follows an update to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, made through the Health and Social Care Act 2022, to move medical examiners away from local authorities and instead embed the system into NHS bodies. This means NHS organisations will be required to have processes in place to support this change by 31st March 2023.

In addition to this, GP practices and other local community settings will be required to implement an information sharing agreement, or update their existing one depending on the setting, to incorporate the changes.

BLS has extensive experience in the health and social care sector, working with large NHS trusts, to GP Federations, right through to rural sole-trader holistic services. If we can offer any assistance with information sharing agreements or the right to access health data, get in touch with us below.

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