February 25, 2024
Approx 7 min read

The role of GDPR in NHS DSPT and DTAC compliance

Written by
Lorena Stuart

Data has quickly emerged as one of the most valuable assets in the delivery of healthcare. From empowering digital solutions that offer personalised care to facilitating the rapid digitisation of NHS systems, patient data plays a central role in ensuring efficient healthcare delivery and improving patient outcomes. However, with the abundance of valuable data comes the crucial responsibility of safeguarding it while ensuring patients’ rights remain protected.

Addressing this challenge head-on is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), now known as UK-GDPR, following the UK’s departure from the EU.

As one of the most comprehensive data protection regulations, GDPR lays down strict data protection guidelines for organisations handling personal data, particularly healthcare information. Its significance extends across various industries, including healthcare, where it underpins the NHS DSPT and DTAC, two frameworks which hopeful suppliers must meet to secure contracts with the NHS. Complying with GDPR is not just a legal obligation but a vital step in upholding patients’ rights to ensure their most sensitive information remains protected.

In this blog, we delve into the significance of GDPR compliance in the UK healthcare sector, particularly its role in meeting compliance with the NHS DSPT and DTAC. Furthermore, we’ll explore the future of GDPR and data privacy across the NHS, highlighting the importance of maintaining data protection measures to foster a secure and resilient healthcare supply chain.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the importance of GDPR, specifically from an NHS compliance standpoint. For a more generic look at the GDPR, including ensuring your organisation meets compliance, take a look at our guide here.

The Role of GDPR in healthcare and securing patient data

Under the GDPR, health data falls under the category of special category data, which in addition to medical records, also covers data such as information on racial or ethnic origin, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and more. In short, if the mishandling of a specific piece of data could result in a risk to an individual, it usually falls under this category. The same applies to data relating to children. The GDPR recognises the sensitivity of such data and imposes strict guidelines to ensure its protection and the safety of individuals. 

This is why compliance with the GDPR is paramount for healthcare organisations and their suppliers. Failing to uphold the GDPR’s principles and regulations can have severe consequences, not only in fines and potentially lost contracts, but because it could put individuals at risk. A data breach involving patient information can lead to legal liabilities, the erosion of patient trust, and ultimately affect patient outcomes. Between 2019-21, the ICO found more data breaches across the healthcare sector than any other sector during the same period, resulting in the NHS paying out huge sums in compensations as individuals’ healthcare information was shared without their consent.

As the NHS embraces digital transformation and leverages new technologies to enhance patient care, the volume of collected and processed data will only continue to grow. This, coupled with the increasing number of suppliers involved in delivering healthcare services, makes it even more challenging for the NHS to maintain oversight and control over the security of patient data. 

Inconsistent or non-compliant approaches to data protection can create vulnerabilities and gaps in the healthcare ecosystem, increasing the risk of data breaches and compromising patient privacy, and nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to suppliers. Advanced, an IT service provider for the NHS, confirmed it had suffered a ransomware attack in August of last year, which downed several services used by the NHS, including a platform used by Mental Health Trusts to access patient information. 

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In light of the challenges posed by the increasing amounts of patient data and the multiple organisations handling it, the NHS has introduced specific requirements for both NHS entities and suppliers. The requirements aim to establish a more organised process that ensures all organisations handling NHS data have a robust cyber security posture. The NHS Data Security and Protection Toolkit (DSPT) and the Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC) are two standards integral to this effort. 

Why GDPR is essential for NHS DSPT and DTAC compliance

Earlier this year, the merger between NHS England and NHS Digital placed a critical focus on improving the security resilience of the NHS. The NHS DSPT and DTAC emerged as essential frameworks that both NHS entities and suppliers need to comply with to strengthen the cyber security posture of the NHS supply chain. Measures such as creating registries for compliant suppliers and expanding the use of secure data environments demonstrate the growing importance of data security in shaping the future of the NHS.

Compliance with these regulations is non-negotiable for suppliers seeking to work with the NHS. All NHS suppliers must meet the NHS DSPT requirements, while those supplying apps, platforms, or medical devices must also comply with DTAC. As mentioned earlier, GDPR compliance is pivotal to meeting the requirements of both frameworks, as proof of GDPR compliance is strictly requested for both. 

NHS Data Security & Protection Toolkit (NHS DSPT):

As part of meeting compliance with the Data Security and Protection Toolkit, organisations must provide evidence of their compliance with the GDPR and their registration with the ICO. Some of the GDPR requirements that fall under the NHS DSPT include:

Consent Management: Organisations must ensure that they have appropriate procedures to obtain and manage consent from individuals to process their personal data.

Data Minimisation: Organisations who seek to work with the NHS need to implement data minimisation practices to ensure they only collect and process the minimum amount of personal data necessary for the intended purpose. This helps reduce the risk of unauthorised access to patient information.

Data Retention Policies: The NHS DSPT requires organisations to have clear and documented data retention policies, specifying how long personal data will be kept and the criteria used to determine retention periods.

Data Subject Rights: Individuals have various rights under GDPR, including the right to access their data, request rectification, and the erasure of their data. As part of the DSPT, healthcare organisations and suppliers must have processes to address these data subject rights requests.

Data Security Measures: The NHS DSPT emphasises the importance of implementing appropriate technical and organisational measures to protect personal data from unauthorised access, disclosure, alteration, or destruction. This includes encryption, access controls, and regular security assessments.

In order to meet NHS DSPT compliance, NHS suppliers must implement further cyber security controls to ensure the security of NHS information. This includes compliance with Cyber Essentials. 

For an in-depth guide on ensuring your organisation meets compliance with the NHS DSPT, download our free NHS DSPT guide here, or book a free 30-minute NHS compliance consultation with one of our experts. 

Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC):

In addition to its emphasis on interoperability, clinical safety, and the accessibility of apps ad software, the DTAC (Digital Technology Assessment Criteria) framework places a significant focus on data security and protection. Specifically, section C2 of the DTAC guidance explicitly requires evidence of compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and compliance with the NHS DSPT (Data Security and Protection Toolkit).

The Future of GDPR in Healthcare:

As the NHS embraces digital transformation, the focus on data compliance and security will only intensify. With the rise of AI-driven health solutions and the continuous growth of patient data, safeguarding and protecting this information will only become a more critical challenge for the healthcare sector. It is evident that GDPR and data security frameworks such as the NHS DSPT, DTAC and ISO7001 will play a central role in addressing these issues and shaping the future of healthcare data protection.

In conclusion, while often overlooked, GDPR compliance is a cornerstone in securing patient data and upholding data protection standards within healthcare. Healthcare organisations and suppliers must recognise the significance of continuously complying with GDPR, NHS DSPT, and DTAC. These frameworks collectively enhance data security practices and fortify the resilience of the UK healthcare supply chain. By prioritising data compliance and security, the UK healthcare sector can build a safer, more reliable, and more resilient ecosystem that ensures the utmost protection of patient information and reinforces the delivery of exceptional patient care.

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