Hartlepool’s hospital trust facing pressure from ‘tsunami’ of data requests

A ‘tsunami’ of data requests is pushing staff at a hospital trust to the limit, a meeting has heard.

Monday, 1st April 2019, 3:31 pm
Updated Monday, 1st April 2019, 3:34 pm
University Hospital of Hartlepool.

Patients and members of the public have a legal right to request personal information and their medical data from NHS trusts.

But the latest North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust board meeting heard “subject access requests” (SARs) and other requests for information were putting its teams under increasing pressure.

Graham Evans, chief digital officer at the trust, told the panel the requests were a “key area of concern” at the moment – alongside GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) which kicked in last year.

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He said: “In simple terms, now we’re no longer able to charge for subject access requests there’s been a tsunami of requests come in – mainly around clinical access to records.

“What this has meant in real terms in 28% increase in volume of work and a 25% reduction in time we’re able to respond.”

Trusts have a month to comply with requests for medical data – and they can only refuse or charge for them if they are “excessive” or “unfounded”.

Hospital trust bosses has put together an “action plan” to cope with the demand.

But its data guru warned the requests were putting his team under a lot of pressure.

Mr Evans added: “We are keeping our heads above water, but there’s more work to do.”

Requests for information from patients more than doubled between May 2018 and February this year.

In the meantime, the trust’s compliance for dealing with its requests fell from 97% to 86% after the new regulations came into force.

But trust board member Jonathan Erskine praised staff for their efforts.

He said: “Even though we’d prefer it to be nearer 100% and not to have dropped off from where it was, it really is a tribute to the team working on this that they have kept it up in the high 80s.”

Trust board chairman Paul Garvin said the law changes had made it a “national problem”.

And Mr Evans said the trust was still “well within the requirements of the law”.

But the digital chief was pessimistic about stemming the tide of requests.

“I’m not convinced at this point in time we can get a change in legislation,” he said.

“Bluntly, this has become the PPI for health services now we’ve lost the ability to charge for requests – it’s literally opened the floodgates for people to just keep requesting.

“And we have to comply.”

Mr Evans said concerns had been passed onto the government – but he wasn’t convinced they’d “reached the right ears”.

And he also raised worries about the number of “Freedom of Information” requests being fired at the trust – which allow the public to access information held by public bodies.

The digital chief added: “Come year end, when there’s a lot of commercial activity we get inundated with requests and it puts a massive burden on our workload.”

Mr Garvin believed the money could be better spent elsewhere.

The chairman added: “At the end of the day, the money we’re having to spend to support that could be otherwise spent on patient care.”

Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporting Service.