Good information sharing is essential for providing safe and effective care. There are also important uses of information for purposes other than individual care, which contribute to the overall delivery of health and social care or serve wider public interests.
These principles apply to the use of confidential information within health and social care organisations and when such information is shared with other organisations and between individuals, both for individual care and for other purposes.
The principles are intended to apply to all data collected for the provision of health and social care services where patients and service users can be identified and would expect that it will be kept private. This may include for instance, details about symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, names and addresses. In some instances, the principles should also be applied to the processing of staff information.
They are primarily intended to guide organisations and their staff, but it should be remembered that patients, service users and/or their representatives should be included as active partners in the use of confidential information.
Where a novel and/or difficult judgment or decision is required, it is advisable to involve a Caldicott Guardian.
Principle 1: Justify the purpose(s) for using confidential information
Every proposed use or transfer of confidential information should be clearly defined, scrutinised and documented, with continuing uses regularly reviewed by an appropriate guardian.
Principle 2: Use confidential information only when it is necessary
Confidential information should not be included unless it is necessary for the specified purpose(s) for which the information is used or accessed. The need to identify individuals should be considered at each stage of satisfying the purpose(s) and alternatives used where possible.
Principle 3: Use the minimum necessary confidential information
Where use of confidential information is considered to be necessary, each item of information must be justified so that only the minimum amount of confidential information is included as necessary for a given function.
Principle 4: Access to confidential information should be on a strict need-to-know basis
Only those who need access to confidential information should have access to it, and then only to the items that they need to see. This may mean introducing access controls or splitting information flows where one flow is used for several purposes.
Principle 5: Everyone with access to confidential information should be aware of their responsibilities
Action should be taken to ensure that all those handling confidential information understand their responsibilities and obligations to respect the confidentiality of patient and service users.
Principle 6: Comply with the law
Every use of confidential information must be lawful. All those handling confidential information are responsible for ensuring that their use of and access to that information complies with legal requirements set out in statute and under the common law.
Principle 7: The duty to share information for individual care is as important as the duty to protect patient confidentiality
Health and social care professionals should have the confidence to share confidential information in the best interests of patients and service users within the framework set out by these principles. They should be supported by the policies of their employers, regulators and professional bodies.
Principle 8: Inform patients and service users about how their confidential information is used
A range of steps should be taken to ensure no surprises for patients and service users, so they can have clear expectations about how and why their confidential information is used, and what choices they have about this. These steps will vary depending on the use: as a minimum, this should include providing accessible, relevant and appropriate information - in some cases, greater engagement will be required.