This guidance has been reviewed by the Health and Care Information Governance Panel, including the ICO and NDG.

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COVID-19 information for volunteers

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Many people have signed up to volunteer following the government’s call for volunteers to help support the health and care system during the current COVID-19 period. The roles include transporting patients; transporting NHS equipment or supplies e.g. assisting pharmacies with medication delivery and providing telephone support to individuals. 

It is recognised that there may not be a period of formal training but as a minimum volunteers will need a brief overview of Information Governance (IG) considerations which are set out below. Local organisations may have IG training schemes in place for volunteers which they continue to use during this time but where this isn’t available the below information may be helpful.

I'm a volunteer - what do I need to know?

The organisation you are working for has a responsibility to ensure information is kept securely and that the public feel confident that personal/confidential patient information is protected. You should be able to do this as a volunteer by considering the following:

  • You may be given use of and access to information about patients, service users or staff, for example patient names and addresses to deliver prescriptions to. This information is confidential and you must only share it with others who need it as part of their role. If you are unsure about when to share information you should speak with your volunteer supervisor. You will only be given this information if it is required for your volunteering role. 
  • If you come into contact with patients/service users e.g. if transporting or calling them, you should also treat any information they tell you as confidential and only share it with those you are working with where required. You should not for example share this information with your friends or family or use it for your own purposes.
  • If you think someone has accessed information inappropriately or there is a risk to information, for example you have lost some personal/confidential patient information, such as a list of patient’s names or a prescription, you should report it to your volunteer supervisor.
  • Confidential waste should be disposed of securely. The organisation you work for will have information about how this is done. If you are unsure, speak to one of your colleagues or your volunteer supervisor.
  • Consider where you make calls from – if you need to call someone about a sensitive issue, find somewhere private where you won’t be overheard.
  • If you need to undertake video calls, you can do so. You should ensure you safeguard personal/confidential patient information in the same way you would with any other method of communication, for example ensuring others can’t overhear or see your conversation.
  • You should protect the information you are given, including when working from home. For example storing copies of information securely and ensuring others in your household don’t have access to information stored on mobile devices or computers.
  • Patients/service users have certain rights over their information. If someone asks you for a copy of their information, or asks for their data to be changed or deleted, you should consult your supervisor.

If you are unsure about anything contact your volunteer supervisor in the first instance.

Guidance for IG Professionals

Volunteers may play a crucial role in services offered by your organisation, and potentially will need access to personal/confidential patient information relating to staff, service users or patients.

Information Governance remains important when working with volunteers (in relation to personal/confidential patient information).  However, there is a need for pragmatism during the Covid-19 response. The Information Commissioner has indicated that data protection is not a barrier to supporting individuals during this crisis. Data sharing has to be necessary and proportionate and regulatory action is unlikely to be undertaken if organisations are sharing data in the best interests of individuals they are supporting.

Due to the nature of the healthcare emergency, and numbers of volunteers registered to help the health and care service, it may not be possible to give them the level of detailed Information Governance training and awareness usually provided.

NHSX has provided this short guide on the basics that Volunteers need to know, so they can carry out their assigned volunteering role, covering areas such as accessing and handling information, and returning information (or disposing of it) when it is no longer required.

Volunteers have been asked to work with their volunteer supervisor but may also contact you if they have an issue which needs resolving. If they do you should help them as you would a member of staff, taking into consideration it is likely they will not have undertaken annual IG training.

Further Information

You can find our full range of IG guidance in relation to the COVID-19 period here.

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