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IGARD appeals, complaints and service improvement procedure

This guidance defines the three distinct but interlinked processes of appeals, complaints and service issues procedures for the Independent Group Advising on Release of Data (IGARD).


IGARD ended on the 31 January 2023

IGARD ceased on the 31 January 2023 when NHS Digital merged with NHS England. NHS England has established interim arrangements to receive independent advice.

1. Overview

1.1 Purpose

This document is to clearly define the three distinct but interlinked processes of appeals, complaints and service issues procedures for the Independent Group Advising on Release of Data (IGARD).

Good customer service handling means:

  • getting it right.
  • being customer focussed
  • being open and accountable
  • acting fairly and proportionately
  • putting things right
  • seeking continuous improvement.

This document has been produced using the Department of Health (DH) guidance for NHS organisations as its basis.

1.2 Scope

The appeal, complaints and service issues procedure is in relation to IGARD and can be raised by anyone, including the data subject, users, suppliers, board or committee members and staff.

The three areas outlined in this document of complaints, appeals and service issues are all distinct processes but interlinked and have been brought together to reflect how the strands of complaints, appeals and service issues work together.

  • Appeals: where an applicant or 3rd party may appeal against IGARD’s recommendation ‘unable to recommend for approval’.
  • Complaint: where anyone can complain about NHS Digital staff or its contractors, its work or its levels of service this process will follow NHS Digital’s feedback and complaint procedure.
  • Service improvements: where anyone can identify opportunities for improvement or suggest areas for consideration by IGARD

Each follows a distinct interlinked path and each will provide outcomes and actions which will be captured, where appropriate, under AOB within the published minutes of IGARD for transparency and openness of process.

1.3 Management review

A management review should be held every six months and will incorporate complaints, appeals, and other representations including compliments and be included as part of the published minutes. The review will include:

  • comments that have been received.
  • the issues they raise.
  • any matters where action has been taken or is to be taken to improve services and whether it was effective.
  • any internal policies and procedures changed as a result

2. Appeals

2.1 Grounds for appeal against IGARD recommendation (or IGARD outcome)

Where IGARD is ‘unable to make a recommendation for approval’ then the applicant, or other third party, may wish to appeal this independent recommendation made by IGARD to NHS Digital.

IGARD is not a statutory body and only makes recommendations to NHS Digital regarding possible data disseminations; NHS Digital is ultimately responsible for decisions made. It is therefore appropriate that if IGARD is unable to recommend a particular application for approval, but the applicant believes they have grounds to appeal against this, then there should be an established appeals process by which an applicant can ask NHS Digital to review the recommendation reached. Having a formal appeals process should provide applicants with an agreed route to address any concerns about IGARD’s recommendations, and could help resolve or prevent complaints or service issues.

NHS Digital is responsible for all decisions with regard the dissemination of data and the DARS service responsible for the input of documentation into IGARD Meetings, and any appeal against an IGARD recommendation should be made via [email protected].

The following are reasons that an applicant could make an appeal against the independent recommendation by IGARD to NHS Digital:

  1. Substantive inconsistency with previous IGARD recommendation(s) (within the previous six months) NB: each application to IGARD is taken on its own facts but the potential for inconsistencies could be mitigated by the DARS ensuring any similar / same / related / linked applications are noted in the abstract of the application presented.
  2. If the applicant believes IGARD has misunderstood or misinterpreted the information provided.
  3. If an applicant believes that IGARD’s reason for not recommending approval is outside the scope of IGARD’s Terms of Reference1.
  4. Any other reasons: in the event that an appeal does not fall under the three reasons listed above, the Head of Data Access, IGARD Chair and NHS Digital Caldicott Guardian, or their representatives, will together consider whether there are other appropriate grounds for the appeal to proceed.

An applicant, or other third party, cannot make an appeal or indeed a complaint that they believe ‘IGARD made the wrong decision’ since IGARD makes a recommendation to NHS Digital and any such complaint would be against NHS Digital’s decision not to disseminate data. However, consideration could be given by the Head of Data Access for them to investigate IGARD’s recommendation, which would be within the scope of this document.

Dissatisfaction with the recommendation alone is not appropriate grounds for an appeal. Delays to an application will not be considered as part of the appeals process and will not be grounds to approve a release of data that would otherwise not be considered appropriate.

The above grounds for appeal should be reviewed regularly in the light of any appeals submitted and any other changes to processes.

2.2 Process to review appeals

Appeals are based on the application as it was submitted to DARS then IGARD, without any changes to the application summary. If the applicant wishes to provide new additional information then the updated application should instead be reviewed by DARS then IGARD following the usual application review process.

If an applicant wishes to appeal they should submit a completed appeals template (see Appendix A) to the IGARD Secretariat. This must include a clear reason for appeal; if no clear reason is given then the applicant will be informed that they will need to resubmit the appeal with the required information. Appeals must be submitted within a maximum of six months from  the date when IGARD considered the application.

On receipt of an appeal, the IGARD Secretariat Manager will notify IGARD, the Caldicott Guardian or their delegate and the NHS Digital SIRO, or their delegate, of the appeal. If the SIRO, or their delegate, has reason to believe that the appeal should not proceed then the SIRO will inform IGARD Secretariat who will notify relevant parties, and the appeal will be rejected via an email back to the applicant with a clear explanation of why the appeal has been rejected by the SIRO, or their

delegate. If the SIRO confirms the appeal should be heard, he will notify the IGARD Secretariat who will notify the Caldicott Guardian, or their delegate, the Director Data Dissemination, or their delegate, and the IGARD Chair.

Following SIRO notification that the appeal will be considered, the IGARD Secretariat will prepare the appeal paperwork. This must include the completed appeal template, the minutes of the IGARD meeting or meetings when the application was discussed, the original application itself and all supporting documents that were included in the original application pack.

IGARD Chair, Head of Data Access and Caldicott Guardian review of reason for appeal

The IGARD Chair, Director Data Dissemination and Caldicott Guardian, or their delegates, will together consider the appeal paperwork and decide whether the appeal is made under appropriate grounds, whether it should be initially reviewed by IGARD or proceed straight to Caldicott Guardian review, or if it should be rejected before any further review takes place.

IGARD review of appeal

Where it has been agreed, IGARD will undertake a review of the appeal paperwork to consider whether the previous recommendation should be amended in the light of the appeal. This review will take place at the next available IGARD meeting, as a formal agenda item, rather than being considered out of committee, and will be included within the published minutes of IGARD.

If IGARD agree to reverse the previous recommendation then the appeal will be accepted, a recommendation made to NHS Digital and data can be disseminated by NHS Digital.  However; if IGARD confirms its previous recommendation, the appeal outcome will then be forwarded to the Caldicott Guardian for review.

Caldicott Guardian review of appeal

The Caldicott Guardian, or their delegated representative, will review the appeal paperwork provided by the IGARD Secretariat to determine whether the appeal should be accepted or rejected.

A suitable SLA may be agreed to confirm the time period for appeals reviews to be carried out. The IGARD meeting minutes will record that an appeal has been submitted to the Caldicott Guardian, or their delegated representative, and once completed, the appeal decision will also be recorded in the IGARD minutes or otherwise published online.


2.3 Appeal outcomes

If an appeal is accepted by IGARD following its review, this will follow the same path as standard recommendations to approve a dissemination of data to NHS Digital and noted in the published minutes of IGARD.

If an appeal is accepted by the Caldicott Guardian or their representative, the Caldicott Guardian will make a recommendation to the NHS Digital SIRO to disseminate data. The SIRO will then consider whether to follow this Caldicott Guardian recommendation and whether to disseminate data in the light of the appeal, or not. Once the SIRO has reached a decision a report will be sent to the Caldicott Guardian, Director Data Dissemination and IGARD Chair, copying in the IGARD Secretariat, informing them of the decision and the decision will be recorded in the published minutes of IGARD after consideration under AOB at the next available IGARD meeting.

If an appeal is rejected by both IGARD and the Caldicott Guardian, this decision will be considered final and no further appeals for the same application and the same reason will be considered and this will be recorded in the published minutes of IGARD, after consideration under AOB at the next available IGARD meeting.

The appeals process should be as transparent as possible to maintain public trust in NHS Digital’s processes for the dissemination of data. The outcomes of any part of this process will be reported at the following IGARD meeting with a copy of the completed appeal template and the outcome will be recorded in the published IGARD meeting minutes. NHS Digital will publish the completed appeal template and will make information available to applicants on the likely criteria for decisions and relevant precedents set by other appeals. DARS will inform the applicant of the outcome of the appeal.

For transparency of process, all reports to the Caldicott Guardian, SIRO and IGARD Chair will be copied to the IGARD secretariat to keep on file within the IGARD folders along with all paperwork for that appeal.

Image representing the IGARD appeals process.



3. Complaints

We take complaints about our work, staff, and levels of service very seriously. If you're unhappy with our service, it's important to let us know so we can improve. There are two ways to tell NHS Digital what you think. You can:

We can only deal with complaints about the work, staff, and levels of service provided by NHS Digital learn more about NHS Digital’s feedback and complaints procedure

4. Service issues

As part of our process of continuous improvement, we welcome representations that help us to identify opportunities for improvement or suggest areas for consideration. These could include:

  • specific suggestions for significant changes to our processes or documents, for example an update to the IGARD procedure. Modest changes will normally be dealt with informally but may be noted within published IGARD minutes under AOB.
  • suggestions that we review policies, procedures or guidelines, which may be noted within published IGARD minutes under AOB.
  • representations that may identify specific and potentially significant concerns about our policies, procedures or guidelines, but which have not led to an event or outcome that would initiate a complaint.
  • additionally, any complaints or appeals, whether upheld or not, will also be incorporated into the continuous improvement and ongoing development of IGARD

Service improvements should be described in writing and sent to the IGARD Secretariat Manager

The IGARD Secretariat Manager will acknowledge receipt of the representation within two working days and record them on the service improvement log. The representation will be taken to the IGARD operational meeting for initial consideration.  A decision will be made either to:

  • seek further information to determine appropriate action.
  • recommend a change an IGARD procedure.
  • initiate a service improvement project.
  • consult the leads.
  • note the representation but take no further action at this point.  See annual report below 

The IGARD Secretariat Manager will notify the person making the representation of the outcome of the IGARD Operations Board. If that includes further investigation or action they will be notified of  the intended timescale for that action and ask if they wish to be informed of progress. If no further action is proposed, the person making the representation will be notified that the representation will be reconsidered as part of the management review process leading to an annual report and further information will be forwarded to them in due course. They will also be informed that they can make a further representation to the Caldicott Guardian (Senior Responsible Officer) or their delegate.

On receipt of an escalated representation, the Caldicott Guardian, or their delegate, may seek counsel from their extended senior management team who will consider the representation and either ask IGARD to reconsider or inform the person making the representation that no further action will be taken and copy in the IGARD Secretariat Manager by emailing [email protected]

Appendix A: Applicant appeal template

Last edited: 22 March 2023 9:33 am