Call to Action: Health and Social Care (Control of Data Processing) Bill

The NI Assembly is currently scrutinising the Health and Social Care (Control of Data Processing) Bill. If the Bill is approved and made law, it will regulate and safeguard the processing of information about patients.

Why is this Bill important?

We need this change in the law! Without it,  information about patients in Northern Ireland cannot be collected and  studied. So we won’t have reliable information,which is essential for planning and delivering health and social care services. This means our services are not evidence-based, and can’t be benchmarked against those available in other parts of the UK and wider afield. We have no way of knowing if our patients are getting high quality care or how well carers are being supported. We cannot identify where improvements are needed and what action can be taken to remedy gaps in services.

Without the new legislation, people in Northern Ireland can’t participate in many research projects, or access trials of new treatments that are available in other parts of the UK.

Without it, difficulties in accurately identifying who could benefit from new treatments in Northern Ireland as they become available will continue.

The new legislation will also allow us to create the much needed Rare Disease Registry to evaluate and facilitate high quality care and services.

It is vital that our MLAs know important this legislation is for everyone in Northern Ireland, especially to those living with rare disease.

What you can do

Please email your MLAs and ask them to support the Bill.

There’s a draft letter you can use below; and more information about the Bill.

You can find out who your MLAs are here

And their email addresses here

If you have any problems get in touch with with your postcode and she’ll send you the contact details of your MLAs

Let others know: get your family and friends involved too!

Join our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter @ni_rdp and share our message.


Draft Letter:

Dear [Name of MLA]


I am writing to ask you to support this Bill. I am [explain who you are, e.g. parent, carer, someone living with a rare disease, friend/ family member of someone with a rare disease].

One of the biggest problems our health and social care services face when trying to help people with rare diseases is the lack of accurate information. For example, who has them, how many people are affected, and what works well in treating and caring for them?

This lack of information makes planning impossible, and means that every family and every patient has to make an individual case for what they need. This is exhausting for families, and wasteful and inefficient for the authorities. Without the new legislation, information cannot be gathered, analysed, and used for planning our services.

The Bill would also help advance much needed research into rare diseases and help develop new treatments. Because each rare disease affects so few people, all the information that can be gathered from across the world needs to be shared as widely as possible. Unfortunately, at present, because we in Northern Ireland don’t have statutory regulation of our patient information, other countries won’t accept our information, and we can’t join international efforts to understand or treat rare diseases, or share in their benefits, such as medical trials.

We are delighted that this Bill has been brought forward. It contains strong protections, and allows information to be used for the benefit of all.

Please support the Bill in the Assembly; if you would like further information please contact the Northern Ireland Rare Disease Partnership at

Yours Sincerely

[Your Name]

[Your Address]

The Detail: the Health and Social Care (Control of Data Processing) Bill: A Significant step Towards Better Health.

The Health and Social Care (Control of Data Processing) Bill is essential to:

  • Eliminate current uncertainty surrounding use of patient/client information other than for the direct care of the individual concerned.
  • Enable organisations carrying out vital research to improve quality and equality in health and social care to do so without facing risk of legal action due to the current uncertain position on sharing patient/client identifiable information in Northern Ireland.
  • Introduce safeguards and a robust framework for sharing of user identifiable information to enable better health and social care provision without mistakenly compromising patient/client confidentiality.
  • Enable a collaborative approach to sharing of information, avoiding duplication and reducing cost.
  • Inform assessment, diagnosis, and treatment and care of patients/clients.
  • Help address the challenges the Northern Ireland community and health service face with increasingly complex health and social care needs, through enabling better understanding of comorbidities/multi morbidities/ rare disease and related specialist and palliative care needs and approaches.
  • Underpin and regulate the development and use of structured registries; including development of genetic registers*.
  • Develop genuinely evidence based commissioning, service planning and service delivery in Northern Ireland- inclusive of drawing on the benefits of Northern Ireland’s integrated health and social care system, strengthening the whole systems approach to care of the individual, and supporting epidemiology studies that enable continuous advancement in Northern Ireland’s “Knowledge Economy”, and improvement in population health strategy.
  • Enable NI’s participation in UK, R.o.I and international research and development, and therefore reap the medical, social and economic benefits of Northern Ireland’s unique opportunities in the field of research.
  • Enable Northern Ireland to achieve international best practice standards in health and social care.
  • Ultimately, reduce inequalities and provide high quality health and social care.
  • *Development of genetic registers, which this legislation would help, would also facilitate increased genetic counselling for family members which impacts on long term health and reduction in morbidity and mortality, and would be supported by the Northern Ireland Regional Genetics Service (NIRGS).


Rare Disease and Use of Identifiable User Information

Rare diseases occur relatively frequently within the Northern Irish population, yet they are poorly understood at a population level, and the scale of their impact is not possible to assess; leading to poor planning and service provision.

Coordinated information collection on their incidence is not currently happening due to:

  • A lack of technological infrastructure to collect information on  individual genetic conditions.
  • It is important particularly for rare diseases that information is collected as comprehensive as possible: when searching for needles in haystacks it is important to have as much of the haystack to search through as possible. This is why the non-consent model is extremely important to the rare disease community and to improving our understanding of rare diseases.

Improved information and understanding will lead to better

  • Diagnostics services;
  • Opportunities to optimise potential for improved treatments and management plans;
  • Population plans and allocation of services;
  • Safer services for patients.


All this will also reduce Emergency Department and unscheduled admissions; and help achieve the vision of Transforming Your Care- the right treatment, in the right place, at the right time.

There are also broader and very significant benefits to Northern Ireland flowing from the ability to use data in improving our knowledge of rare disease.

  • 100K Genomes is a UK wide project aiming to sequence 100,000 whole genomes from cancer and rare disease patients by 2017.The ambition is that the project will make the NHS the most scientifically advanced healthcare system in the world. Rare disease is now at the forefront of science and research, innovation and progress. Once this legislation is in place Northern Ireland is well placed to be part of this revolution in health care. Northern Ireland with its close connections and tradition of world class excellence in health issues is unique, and could play a valuable role in tackling cancers and rare diseases; so increasing understanding of all health conditions. However, the legislation is needed for access to UK, European, and worldwide projects. Changes are also needed to ensure that funding is available to enable individuals in Northern Ireland to have equal access to testing for genetic disorders including those offered through the UK GTN or (for very rare disorders) those offered overseas. Ideally, funding would develop high through put sequencing locally, building Northern Ireland’s Knowledge Economy, improving population health, and providing high quality careers for our young people, and opportunities for our local industry.

Better understanding of rare disease is not only important to the very significant group of people in Northern Ireland living with rare conditions. It is the key to understanding more common conditions. A growing body of evidence shows that rare disease research can yield important insight into more common conditions. Rare diseases are often more extreme and have a more straightforward aetiology than their common counterparts, and therefore provide models of disease that are easier to study. Research on fundamental diseases can yield important insight into the pathogenesis of more common diseases, lead to the development of block-buster drugs, and can even explain how certain genetic mutations have become so common in today’s population.

The value of truly understanding how rare diseases affect our population is tremendous. The Health and Social Care (Control of Data Processing) Bill is essential to allow data collection and analysis, and to enable that understanding to be developed.