Are We Still Required to Respond to Information Rights Requests Such as Subject Access Requests?
The RCGP have issued guidance on workload prioritisation during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Currently they advise that practices may stop all non essential paperwork. They have advised that practices may stop: Travel vaccinations, insurance reports, medicals and DVLA medical examinations. You can see a list of prioritised / de-prioritised items from the BMA / RCGP here.
There is a risk that subject access requests will fall behind the legal time frame as staff operate on skeletal services ensuring that public health is secured first. Additionally, if paper records are required, it is possible staff in isolation are unable to retrieve them.
The ICO have issued a notice that they will take into account the compelling public interest in health emergencies which should give practices some flexibility should they be suffering through an outbreak when requests are received.
As practices still have a duty to inform their patients, the following addition has been added to practice websites that are displaying the most up to date Kafico materials.
If your practice does not have our up to date materials, you may wish to add this message directly.
"Your request for information and other information rights may be delayed due to urgent operational responses to dealing with Public Health priorities. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause, we do remain committed to responding to your request and will respond as soon as we are able. Should our response to your request breach the statutory time frame and you remain unhappy with our response you have the right to complain to the Information Commissioners Office and you can contact them at ....”
What About Requests from Solicitors?
Like many other industries and sectors, solicitors and the courts are still trying to do as much work as they can remotely to maintain continuity of essential services and the economy and public life more generally.
As such you will still receive requests from solicitors. In these cases, where you are unable to access full records, do explain the situation and ask the solicitor if there is anyway they can narrow their request. For example, would they be happy with the last two years in the meantime; if it's for an accident that happened recently.
To try and stay on top of requests, prioritise those that are the quickest, so if you do have someone who only wants 6 months, do that one first. It's better to have the easy ones completed quicly so that when normal service resumes, there are less requests that are falling outside the time frame.