19 August 2021 by Sarah Da Silva-Steer
When you think about what an Information Governance (IG) professional does, what comes to mind? Drafting sharing agreements, writing data protection impact assessments, educating staff on the data protection act? Yes. It is that. But there is so much more.
The role of an IG member of staff is one that is so very privileged. Of course, every job has those responsibilities that can be dull and take up much of your business-as-usual tasks. However, within IG, you also have elements of work where you can have a huge impact on another person’s life. Being part of that process is incredibly humbling. In the health and social care sectors in particular, we get a glimpse into the realities of people’s lives. We use that understanding and our skill set to make sure they are protected in an important but very different way to the care provided by a clinical professional or social worker.
As a career, IG provides some wonderful opportunities. Many of my IG peers will have fallen into the role, just as I did. I started in IG in 2006 as a young NHS bank member of staff with no previous experience. My first role was in the Medical Records Department as an IG administrator. It was such an amazing job, learning about medical records, of course, but also clinical coding, ward management, subject access requests and freedom of information, among many other intricate areas. It might have been an accident to fall into IG but it was also huge luck.
It has been exciting to see the Information Security, Privacy and Data Protection landscape change so much since 2006, as thinking and expectations adapt and evolve. It’s brilliant too to be part of a sector which has an impact on so many areas of life. It influences our lives at home, at work, and – thinking about the overarching System C & Graphnet Care Alliance ethos – at moments of crisis or difficulty, when the sharing of health and care data can help ensure best care.
Since that beginning 15 years ago, I have learnt that there is huge scope for shaping your own role. You can make IG interesting, exciting, straight forward and you can change the whole culture of an organisation along the way. IG touches all parts of an organisation and all levels of staff. As an IG specialist, you get to reach out to every corner of the organisation and every project. It is something I sometimes struggle to convey when people ask me what the term “information governance” actually means. Too often it sounds like a role full of monotonous paperwork and tick box exercises, but in reality it is so very different.
From those early days in the NHS bank onwards, I have always worked in health and social care. That in itself has created some very challenging, emotive and life-impacting experiences.
There have been many instances during my career which have highlighted the importance of IG. Working in social care, for example, there are hugely important decisions to be made when completing a Data Subject Access Request for young people coming out of a care setting. Providing their life story, while considering if there is information that should be held back and for which legal reason, can obviously have an enormous impact on individuals and is not a task to be taken lightly.
I have had to deal with situations where an individual’s data has been shared inappropriately and have seen the direct effect it can have on them. On another occasion, I had to work under time pressure to support a very serious crime operation associated with a patient suffering from a severe mental health illness. Working in children’s safeguarding I have experienced on the ground how critical it is that appropriate data is shared to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children. In the last year, working through a global pandemic, I have played a part in the national vaccine programme, working with colleagues on the National Immunisation Management Service (NIMS). And every day at work I bring each and every element of that experience to bear in helping ensure health and care data is shared safely and for all the right reasons. I get a thrill each time a shared care record or population health system is implemented, and I hear from clinical staff the huge difference the systems have made to their job and the care they offer.
IG is so much more than what it can appear to be on the surface. It is complex and wide-ranging. It is emotional and joyful. And while you can’t always fix or solve everything, you get a real chance to do so, and what an honour that is.
Sarah da Silva-Steer
Director of Information Governance
Data Protection Officer for System C and Graphnet Care Alliance