The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) has announced new measures to improve the transparency of its decision-making and build public trust in its actions.

Sir Nick Partridge, a non-executive director (NED) on the HSCIC Board, is to conduct an audit of all the releases made by the Centre’s predecessor organisation, the NHS Information Centre, and report on this to the Board by end-April.

The Centre will also publish, on April 2, a report detailing the data which it has released, including the legal basis for release and the purpose to which the data is being put. The report will be updated on a quarterly basis and is intended to encourage public scrutiny of HSCIC decisions, says the Board.

And the HSCIC will be writing to all recipients of data releases reminding them of their responsibilities under their data-sharing agreements with the Centre, including its right to audit their use of data released to them, as well as its intention to publish details of their access. 

Sir Nick Partridge’s audit is being conducted following concerns expressed at an evidence session held by the House of Commons Health Committee on February 25, just after NHS England announced that the launch of was to be delayed for six months, amid massive public controversy including media claims that patient medical records had been sold to an insurance company.

Challenged by MPs over these allegations, Max Jones, director of information services and data services at the HSCIC, responded that some data had been released to the non-profit Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, but this had been done in 2012 by the Centre’s predecessor organisation, the NHS Information Centre, and before the current statutory controls were put in place.

Dr Daniel Poulter, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, also pointed out that the new controls contained within the 2012 Health and Social Care Act include “an express requirement” that data released “has to be used for the purposes of health and social care for the NHS, for the benefit of the NHS and the health and care system effectively.”

The Act also contains protections to ensure “there is a rigorous and ongoing assessment process that is required of the [HSCIC] to make sure it has safeguards in place about confidential data and protecting it,” Dr Poulter told the Committee.

Commenting on the audit yesterday, Sir Nick, who is former chief executive of the Terence Higgins Trust, said: “this is the start of building the public’s trust in the transparency of HSCIC decision-making and that the organisation is operating to the highest standards.”

Joining Sir Nick (former chief executive of the Terence Higgins Trust) and Sir Ian Andrews on the HSCIC Board as new NEDs are Professor Maria Goddard, director of the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York, and Jan Ormondroyd, former chief executive of Bristol City Council.