Data is held on PDS to help care providers confirm the identity of patients; to link their care records within an organisation and between different organisations, and to communicate with patients. Access by individual staff to PDS data requires the use of a smartcard, while access via intermediary systems is subject to an assurance and approval framework. Details of all access is logged and maintained for audit or other investigation purposes.
The key processes where PDS data may be accessed and used are as follows:
- Registration (and de-registration) with a care provider, whether as a patient at a GP practice or as an in-patient, outpatient or day case with a provider of NHS services, generally via a care provider's own electronic patient record system (e.g. GP practice clinical system or hospital Patient Administration System).
- Registration with a GP practice involves processing of PDS data by the National Health Authority Information System (NHAIS) systems used by Primary Care Support England (PCSE) to manage GP practice lists, to check for previous details of a patient's GP registration.
- Checking by care providers for any updates to the details for a registered patient, either via a care provider's own system (e.g. GP practice clinical system or hospital Patient Administration System) or by logging into the Demographics screens on the Summary Care Record application (SCRa). This is also available to local authority social care services where they are working in partnership with NHS organisations to provide shared care for a patient.
- Checking by care providers for details of a patient's chargeable status in the case of visitors and migrants by logging into the Demographics screens on the Summary Care Record application (SCRa)
- Referral for care, typically a GP referral for secondary care, using the national eReferrals Service (eRS)
- Prescribing medication using the national Electronic Prescriptions Service (EPS).
- Creation and update of a patient's Summary Care Record (SCR).
- Electronic transmission via the GP2GP service of a patient's medical records between the old and new GP practices when re-registering.
NHS Digital also processes PDS data to provide extracts of patient demographic data for the Secondary Uses Service (SUS) and for the Medical Research Information Service (MRIS), both operated by NHS Digital. A range of reports is also available to relevant organisations through Spine Demographics Reporting Service (SDRS) to support the management of NHS services, including some health screening services. PDS data extracts may also be provided to external organisations for specific purposes subject to there being an appropriate legal basis and the relevant approval processes being followed. Disclosures of PDS data are recorded on the Data Release Register.
There are a number of regional NHS data processing centres, known as Data Services for Commissioners Regional Offices (DSCROs) and staff in these offices may apply for access to PDS records. This is only allowed for specified purposes in connection with checking the validity of patient information and confirming responsibilities for commissioning of patient care.
NHS Digital also processes PDS data for validation and integrity checking purposes, identifying potential data quality issues to be investigated and resolved by NBO staff who will access individual records to identify issues and make corrections. Some less complex cases are also handled by staff at the National Service Desk operated by NHS Digital.
In addition to health and care purposes, where requested and where appropriate, the NBO may trace and provide administrative non-clinical information from the PDS to organisations and agencies with statutory responsibilities for specific public services. This is undertaken only where there is an applicable legal basis.
These tracing services are categorised under the following four headings:
- NHS Data Management (this includes batch tracing to confirm NHS Numbers and other details for patients receiving services from health and care providers)
- Health & Care Management (this includes letter forwarding and checking currency of patient registrations)
- Death Registration
- Record tracing (this includes tracing for law enforcement purposes, including police services, National Crime Agency, Home Office Immigration, court orders and Criminal Cases Review Commission)
There is also a Letter Forwarding tracing service which NHS Digital provides under its statutory obligation to protect the welfare of an individual. No information about live individuals is provided by this function.
Further information regarding these services is available.