Wed 03 Apr 2024

Sharing personal data in mental health emergencies

New guidance has been published clarifying that data protection laws do not prevent necessary and appropriate information being shared in an emergency.

When does the guidance apply?

The new guidance -  Information sharing in mental health emergencies at work -  which has been published by the Information Commissioner’s Office, aims to give employers greater certainty about sharing information about workers in the event of a mental health emergency.  A mental health emergency is defined as "a situation in which you believe that someone is at risk of serious harm to themselves, or others, because of their mental health." 

Where there is a more general health emergency which does not meet this definition, employers should follow the ICO guidance on when workers' health information can be shared

What are the key takeaways from the guidance?

The general message is that during a mental health emergency employers should share necessary and proportionate information without delay with relevant and appropriate emergency services and health professionals. Employers should focus on sharing the information with the right people to protect the employee involved and/or others from serious harm.

The guidance also recommends planning ahead where possible.  From a practical perspective that should include: -

  • Putting in place a policy covering sharing of personal information in a mental health emergency;
  • Making workers aware of the policy and that their health information may be shared in these circumstances;
  • Training staff on the appropriate response - this could be part of wider training on mental health or for first aiders;
  • Ensuring details of workers next of kin are up-to-date.

From a legal perspective, it means identifying a lawful basis for sharing information, which includes identifying a special category condition, as health information falls under special category data. The guidance covers the most likely lawful bases and special category conditions that may apply. 

The guidance also highlights that employers may also need to share information with a worker's emergency contact person. Discretion will need to be used as to what information needs to be shared. While the emergency services may need full details, the emergency contact person may only need to know that the employer has serious concerns regarding the worker's wellbeing along with the details of the emergency services that have been contacted.


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