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NHS account privacy policy: online consultation services

Version 2.3, 25 May 2022

The NHS account privacy policy provides details of how we use, and process, any personal information you give us. It also has details of who to contact should you need to speak to the relevant data protection officer.

The information below describes how we use your information when you use online consultation services within your NHS account.

What are online consultation services?

Online consultations allow you to contact your GP practice without having to wait on the phone or take time to go into the practice in person especially if you are not sure you need a face to face consultation. Online consultations enable you to use a secure online system to ask questions, report symptoms and get advice.

Online consultations are not appropriate for emergencies. If you require urgent care you will be advised to go direct to:

  • NHS 111 - for patients who have an urgent medical problem and are not sure what to do
  • A&E department (also known as emergency department or casualty) - for genuine life-threatening emergencies or
  • call 999 - for a medical emergency when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk

An online consultation service usually includes asking a series of questions (called forms-based triage) to identify what you need and direct you to the right service. Online consultations can typically be used for:

  • asking for test results or a making a routine appointment
  • describing symptoms to your GP and getting advice (which may sometimes be that a face to face appointment is needed)

If your GP practice provides an online consultation service, this will be made clear on the GP practice website.

For NHS nationally funded online consultation services in England, your GP practice's online consultation service may also be available within your NHS account and any requests which patients send to their GP practice will be securely sent from their NHS account to the GP practice system using the online consultation provider (as described in the NHS account terms of use).

Your NHS account is provided by NHS Digital and supports health services such as enabling your GP practice to provide you with online access to sections of your health record. You can use the NHS App to log in to your NHS account. The NHS App can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play. You can also log in to your NHS account using the NHS website.

Who is involved in providing online consultation services?

The following organisations are involved in providing online consultation services available through your NHS account. Their respective roles are described below. Refer to the section entitled 'Your NHS account services and who we are' of the NHS account privacy policy for more information about them.

Your GP practice

If an online consultation service is available at your GP practice, the GP practice (or the clinical commissioning group to which they belong) will have usually engaged one or more specialised online consultation supplier(s) to provide the service. The agreements in place with the supplier(s) ensure that your GP practice remains the 'Controller' of the patients' information and that patients' information is not used for any purpose other than the online consultation purpose. In relation to certain online consultation providers NHS England is also a joint data controller of your information alongside your GP practice, please see below.

Online consultation provider

An online consultation provider is a commercial organisation providing the online consultation service on behalf of your GP practice. Providers are usually contracted through an NHS England procurement framework, which involves scrutiny of their service including technical, clinical, privacy and security aspects.

An online consultation provider is a 'processor' for the GP practice which means it processes patients' personal information in accordance with instructions issued by the GP practice and is not able to use the information for other purposes.

NHS Digital

NHS Digital will be a controller of personal data relating to your journey through your NHS account (for example that you accessed an online consultation service at a certain time), as NHS Digital connects your NHS account to the GP practice's online consultation service.

Because NHS Digital provides the NHS login service, NHS Digital is a controller of verified identity information used to access your NHS account and online consultations services from your NHS account used within NHS login. These details are name, age, NHS number, gender, email address. Find out more about verified identities and the role of NHS login.

NHS Digital is not a controller in respect of your use of an online consultation service, or any health related information you input.

NHS Digital merely provides a connection within your NHS account to the online consultation service on behalf of the GP practice.

In some cases (dependent on the connection method of the online consultation service to your NHS account) NHS Digital is a processor, which means they act under instruction from the GP practice that controls the patient information.

The online consultation providers to whom this applies are:

  • eConsult Health Limited

NHS England

In relation to certain online consultation providers, NHS England is also a joint data controller with your GP practice, as NHS England has a role supporting the roll out of these services and ensuring appropriate information governance contracts are in place. Your GP will retain responsibility for managing your personal data and should be your primary point of contact. NHS England will be responsible for managing any system-wide incidents and national assurance of compliance with data protection legislation. For more information in relation to NHS England's role as a joint controller with your GP practice see NHS England's privacy notice.

The online consultation providers to whom this applies are:

Who is my online consultation provider?

The online consultation services offered to you as a patient will depend upon which online consultation providers have been engaged by your GP practice or the Clinical Commissioning Group to which they belong.

The name of the provider is shown within your NHS account before any online consultation begins. It will also be named on the GP practice website. If you are still unsure who your provider is, ask your GP practice.

If your GP practice does not offer online consultation services you will not see any options relating to online consultations within your NHS account.

Online consultation providers currently available through your NHS account

Links to privacy policies, and help and support, for online consultation providers
Name Online consultation services offered Privacy policy
accuRx Limited Answer questions online and get a response from your GP surgery; ask your GP surgery a question accuRx's privacy policy
eConsult Health Limited trading as eConsult or WebGP Answer questions online and get a response from your GP surgery; you may be able to get advice for your child if it's available at your surgery eConsult's GP online consultation service privacy notice
Engage Health Systems Limited Answer questions online and get a response from your GP surgery; view your online consultations and any responses from your GP surgery Engage Health Systems' privacy policy

For more information, see our online consultations help and support page.

What personal data is processed for online consultation services and why?

The categories of personal data (as described in section 5 entitled 'What personal information do we use?' in the NHS account privacy policy) that are shared vary depending upon the online consultation provider, but generally:

  • Identity and contact information used to confirm who you are and that your requests are directed to your GP practice. This information comprises:
    • NHS login account information: name, date of birth, NHS number
    • Information within your GP medical record: postal address
    • Manually entered: gender, email address, telephone number
  • Online consultation responses - the answers you provide to questions asked by the online consultation service and the replies from your GP practice are likely to contain sensitive medical information. Your requests and responses will be used to determine what the next appropriate steps should be. For example:
    • if urgent care is indicated, you will be advised to contact emergency services direct
    • your needs may be prioritised and
    • an appropriate response can be given which may be that a face-to-face appointment should be arranged or refer you to a more suitable service.

Your rights

Data protection law provides a number of rights to you. You can exercise your rights by contacting the appropriate controller:

Page last reviewed: 25 May 2022
Next review due: 25 November 2022