The National Bowel, Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Programmes have a requirement to use patient identifiable data in order to identify eligible women and men, to invite them to participate in the national programmes and in order to record and evaluate the outcomes of screening.
In 2001, the Health & Social Care Act acknowledged the need to seek patients’ explicit consent before their details were passed from agency to agency. It was deemed impractical to obtain consent from those involved within the Cancer Screening Programmes. Therefore since 2003, the NHS Cancer Screening Programme has applied for and been given exemption under Section 60 of the Health and Social Care Act 2001 and subsequently Section 251 of the revised NHS Act in 2006. The statutory body responsible for Section 251 of the NHS Act 2006 has recently changed from the National Information Governance Board for Health and Social Care (NIGB) to Confidentiality Advisory Group (CAG).
Section 251 allows the NHS Cancer Screening Programme to access patient identifiable information without patients’ consent. Under Section 251, exemption was conditional and subject to the programme’s implementation and sign-up to NHS Cancer Screening Programme - Confidentiality & Disclosure Policy (November 2011). This policy is currently under review by the National Screening Office for Cancer Screening Programmes. All relevant cancer screening personnel however are still required to sign up to this policy on an annual basis until the updated policy has been published:
It is the responsibility of all staff involved in the cancer screening programmes to comply with this national policy. To ensure compliance has been met, annual confirmation will be requested by the London QARC. Additional checks will be undertaken at bowel, breast and cervical programme QA visits.
In the interests of good practice, the Hospital Based Programme Co-ordinators from the Cervical Cancer Screening Programme and Directors of Screening from the Breast and Bowel Cancer Screening Programmes should also ensure that all staff receive, as a minimum, a three yearly update on the specific issues surrounding the confidentiallity and disclosure of patients data for screening. (This is in addition to the information governance training tool assessment that must be completed annually by NHS staff).
Should non-compliance become evident then it is possible for exemption to be withdrawn. This would mean the Cancer Screening Programmes would no longer be able to operate.