‘Preserving the Past, Recording the Present, Informing the Future’ by John McGonigle

The above title comes from the National Records of Scotland website and you may be wondering ‘what on earth does that statement have to do with me, both privately and in my role in the NHS?’. Well the answer to that question is quite possibly more than you might think at first glance.

Preserving the Past

You may have received a gift of a book on Genealogy at Christmas or visited a website to get some guidance on tracing your family history. Without access to the appropriate records you would not get very far with your research. You may feel frustrated at being unable to make any progress in proving that you are actually 292nd in line to the throne or verifying that you are a distant cousin of Barack Obama, but other than the disappointment factor no real damage is done. Disappointment is not the word I imagine anyone would use should they discover any gap in their health record or that their record was unavailable for any reason.

Recording the Present

During the course of our everyday business within the NHS we record information relating to the events of that day e.g. recording details of medication administered to a patient, completing a purchase order for stores, etc. The details recorded provide an accurate picture of the current situation that we or our colleagues can use with confidence to continue the treatment of a patient or progress the order.

Informing the Future

By the collection, analysis and publication of information drawn from various sources it is possible to assist determination of future requirements for our society in fields such as predicting education needs, assisting in the formulation of flood prevention measures and healthcare provision to name just a few. By ensuring that records are accurate, securely stored and readily available it enables even the most complex analysis to be undertaken.

Records Management

Information is the main asset that all businesses and organisations have in common and good records management enables them to manage their activities professionally and efficiently. Recently though, there have been a number of issues in a variety of areas that have brought the subject of records management into the minds of the general public. For example:

  • How many of us were affected by the hacking of customer information at TalkTalk ?
  • Apparently there was the embarrassment (to put it mildly !) for some when Ashley Madison had their systems hacked into
  • Various banking issues have resulted in direct debit payments being missed because accounts were shown, incorrectly, to have insufficient funds
  • Missing information resulted in a number of issues in the Glasgow Bin Lorry enquiry
  • Approximately 8000 paper health records were destroyed at NHS Grampian due to a flash flood in a basement at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary

The headlines associated with these incidents caused emotions ranging from mild concern to outright panic. Although most of the above examples could be relatively easily resolved or the concerns mitigated by prompt action (with the possible exception of the one at Ashley Madison!) the damage to an organisations’ reputation was already done.  Eventually customers get compensation or they move their business to another company. Which is fine until it happens all over again e.g. there have been several issues in the recent past at TalkTalk. Imagine then, the impact on your life that would result from missing or incomplete health records and associated information on even just one occasion. How would you feel …Betrayed? ..Angry? …Disappointed? …Surprised or possibly not surprised at all? In this case it is not as simple as changing mobile phone contracts or switching bank accounts. There is only one NHS and we are all entitled to assume that our health records are managed professionally and in line with all current legislation e.g. The Data Protection Act 1998, Freedom of Information Act 2000 and more recently, the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011.

The Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011

John M 1 This Act fulfils one of the main recommendations of the 2007 Historical Abuse Systemic Review (the Shaw Report). The Shaw Report found that poor record keeping often created difficulties for former residents of residential schools and children’s homes, when they attempted to trace their records for identity, family or medical reasons.

One of the aims of the Public Records Act (Scotland) 2011 is to achieve improvements in the standard of record keeping in all 270+ public authorities in Scotland.   The Act requires every authority to prepare a Records Management Plan (RMP) setting out proper arrangements for the management of the authority’s public records and submit it to the Keeper of the Records of Scotland for agreement. NHS Dumfries & Galloway are currently in the process of creating their RMP for submission by the end of February 2016 to the Keeper for assessment.  

The RMP encompasses 14 elements of records management as defined by the Keeper. For each element we are required to submit a response together with detailed supporting evidence. Several NHS Dumfries & Galloway policies relating to Records Management, Information Security and Information Governance have been updated to ensure that they meet the Keepers’ requirements – please ensure that you are familiar with the latest documentation.  

The demands around the security, accuracy and availability of our personal information will undoubtedly continue to grow. Current and future legislation (there is another abuse enquiry currently under way in Scotland that may result in updated legislation) will help to ensure that, together with the commitment and professionalism of everyone, records management within NHS Dumfries & Galloway is of the highest possible standard and will indeed ‘Preserve the Past, Record the Present and Inform the Future’.  

For more information on the Public Records Act (Scotland) Act 2011 please click here or contact John McGonigle, PRSA Project Manager. Tel: 01387 244189 or internally 34189. Email: john.mcgonigle@nhs.net

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