In the intricately interconnected domain of health and social care delivery, data protection is a cornerstone for these organisations owing to the enhanced exposure to cyber risks and the sensitivity of patient data. Being crucial for maintaining the trust of service users and patients as well as avoiding deep operational, financial and legal consequences, this blog aims to make the process of achieving data protection compliance clearer and more practical for you.
Understanding the Legal Landscape
At the heart of UK data protection law is the UK’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act of 2018.
Put together, they form a framework that governs how personal and particularly sensitive health data should be handled. In a nutshell, the data needs to be processed lawfully, transparently and securely by data handlers.
1. The Sensitivity of Health Data
Health data is categorised as ‘special category data’ under UK’s version of GDPR, which means that extra care must be taken to protect this information and process it lawfully.
Compliance begins with recognising that every piece of patient information – from medical histories to treatment plans – must be handled with the utmost care and securely processed from as many angles as possible, including taking measures such as user training, technical defences, creating appropriate access controls, and undertaking regular network audits.
2. Ensuring Lawful Processing
The core of lawful data processing involves obtaining explicit consent. However, in healthcare, data processing is often also justified on the grounds of essential healthcare provision, public health interests, or legal obligations. It’s crucial to understand and document the legal basis for every data processing activity.
3. Upholding Patients’ Rights
Patients have enhanced rights under UK GDPR – including access to their data, rectification of inaccuracies, and, in some cases, the right to have their data erased. Healthcare organisations must establish clear, accessible processes for patients to exercise these rights and have the right IT tools and systems in place to enshrine these rights more seamlessly in their technology.
4. Implementing Data Minimisation and Purpose Limitation
Data minimisation entails collecting only the data that’s necessary for the specified healthcare purposes and ensuring it’s not used beyond these purposes without additional consent or legal justification.
5. Conducting Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs)
DPIAs are crucial for finding risks that could be involved in implementing new workflows and technologies involving personal data. By finding these risks they can be addressed to ensure that data remains secure from prying eyes.
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Methods for Achieving Data Protection Compliance for Healthcare Organisations
Achieving data protection compliance and enhancing your cyber security involves aligning your people, processes and technology to work together. If there are shortfalls or gaps in your measures, these can become points for deeper breaches that can compromise other parts of your organisation’s network.
Alongside applying the legal requirements specified above, here are some key measures to consider for empowering your data protection compliance and cyber security:
- Develop A Data Governance Framework: Outline the policies and procedures for data processing in alignment with UK GDPR and the Data Protection Act.
- Regular Staff Training: One of the weakest links in data protection is human error. Train users about data protection and cyber security best practices, and how to recognise threats.
- Ensuring Vendor Compliance: Ensure vendors comply with data protection standards, using stringent contractual agreements and audits where possible.
- Create an Effective Incident Response Plan: Have plans in place for different incident scenarios that enable faster and more effective responses for containment, assessment, reporting, and communication.
- Invest in cyber security: Iterate more cyber security protections over time, including intrusion detection systems, regular security audits, and a security operations centre for example.
- Strict Access Controls: Keep access on a ‘need to know’ basis, review access control policies and data to ensure this is being maintained.
- Encryption and Anonymisation: Use encryption solutions to protect sensitive data both while it is stored and in transit.
- Use the NHS’s Data Security and Protection Toolkit: If your organisation does or plans on accessing NHS patient data to deliver its services, you can use the toolkit to test your data protection posture and access a framework for improving it.
- Staff Training and Awareness: Train staff on cyber security and data protection best practices, and how to recognise and respond to phishing threats.
Data protection compliance and ensuring the security of your organisation involves a systematic approach that encompasses your people, processes, policies, and technology. By implementing the key requirements of GDPR across them, you can ensure a much better data protection and compliance posture for your organisation.
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