DWP Digital shares data to help with the Covid-19 vaccination programme

Guest post from Nicky Tarry, DWP Digital

Nicky Tarry, statistician explains how DWP Digital contributed to the roll-out of the NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme.

As we write this blog, the Covid-19 vaccination programme here in the UK has continued to progress, offering hope for a return to some sort of normality soon. Here at DWP Digital, we’re proud to have played a small but significant part in the programme by helping NHS England to identify unpaid carers.

Unpaid carers were included in the 6th priority group for the vaccination programme, as it would allow them to continue their caring responsibilities with reduced risk to themselves and the person they care for. In order to ensure that the programme could continue at full pace, there was an urgent need for NHS England to identify people in this group as quickly and accurately as possible, so that they could receive their vaccination.

That’s where DWP became involved. As the department responsible for benefits such as Carer’s Allowance, we hold a large amount of data on people who would qualify for this stage of the vaccination programme.

However, it’s not as simple as just handing over this data to another government department. A bulk transfer like this between our department and the NHS had never taken place before, so we were having to develop a process to manage the delivery of the data whilst managing the security and legal issues around at on a demanding timescale.

A demanding timescale for collaboration

Cross-government collaboration and sharing of information is a vital part of our everyday work. Projects like the Winter Fuel Discount Scheme rely on collaboration between departments, while sharing statistics is vital to ensure accurate statistical reporting. The work on unpaid carers was different however, as there was a much more demanding timescale due to the nature of the vaccination programme.

Even more important than the speed of delivery was ensuring the accuracy of the data we could provide to NHS England, and the security of that data at all stages of the process. It was essential that both departments could be confident of this when bringing our different systems together.

Looking at the accuracy of the data, as a department we wanted to ensure that we identified everyone that could be classed as an unpaid carer. That’s not just those who receive Carer’s Allowance (CA), but those who are classified as a carer but because of their particular situation don’t receive the benefit. There are also people who qualify as recipients of Universal Credit with a Carers Element. Identifying these people was quite complex, as we needed to do significant discovery work to ensure which data items were required.

Ensuring the process was secure

From a security point of view, there were three elements for us to consider. Ensuring the data was secure during transfer was the first – we had to assess the solutions suggested by the NHS alongside our Enterprise Security and Risk Management (ESRM) team.

Once that was complete, we had to be confident that the data was secure when ‘at rest’ with NHS England. Although the NHS was accountable at this stage, we had a responsibility to ensure that they understood the sensitivity of the data, and that we understood their data architecture. Discussions between the data leads on both teams and confirmation of the details in the Data Sharing Agreement meant we could be confident in this stage.

Finally, we also had to ensure that the security of our wider DWP systems when interacting with external systems was considered. Even with another public body there is still a risk to our department when dealing with data transfer, so it’s important that this was considered by the ESRM team as well.

Transferring the data

Once we were confident with the accuracy of our data and happy with a secure system for the transfer, and the required legal governance was in place, we were able to move forward with the data transfer. After a test exchange was conducted, we supplied data on approximately 789,000 recipients of CA on 17th February, and a further 127,000 people receiving other caring-related benefits on 2nd March.

Using this data, NHS England were able to identify around 540,000 carers who hadn’t already been offered vaccinations. The work on this project has also allowed us to prepare for any further requests that could come through to the department in relation to the vaccination programmes, such as needed to identify those who might be classified as homeless.

Unpaid carers provide a lifeline for people with a disability or health condition, even more so during the pandemic when many of those they care for have been shielding. It was a really proud moment for the Data as a Service team to play a part in getting these people priority access to the vaccination, so they can continue to provide this valuable service.

Want to work on projects like this that make a difference? Take a look at DWP Digital Careers site for the latest vacancies.

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