In the UK, your vital medical paperwork is for life - and a few years more. While UK medical law hasn't always been absolute about archival standards, the NHS has generally adhered to long retention schedules that keep notes, legal documents, and medical records on file for future reference.
The Great Paperwork Pile-Up
Since 1948 British surgeries, hospitals, and specialists have kept in-depth records as part of patient care and day-to-day operations. As the decades have rolled on, medical data protection law became firmer, more detailed and more complex. UK life expectancy rose significantly, too.
Mounds of historic medical paperwork older than ten years steadily grew in size against an ageing population. Today, physical documentation storage poses significant challenges for practices with a long and voluminous history. It isn't realistic or affordable to keep everything forever. However, long-term document retention helps with transparent data access and the best standards of patient care. Administrators need to plan to strike the best legal balance.
Identify Your Papers
The first step in establishing whether you should shred, outsource, or keep your old records on-site is simple. Look carefully at the dates of creation and the broad category that your paperwork occupies. If it's financial, ephemeral (i.e. fliers, posters, leaflets, minutes), you should be safe to dispose of it without fuss. Use a professional destruction service (such as CAS) to permanently scrub any identifying data (e.g. addresses, transaction records, names).
Any personalised medical, dental, and mental health paperwork might prove more complicated. Under UK and EU data protection law, you MUST keep this confidential, patient-specific information permanently accessible for patients, doctors, and legal authorities to access on request. While you can eventually dispose of these critical paper records, they might have to be fully aged and irrelevant first.
You might also need to check if the subject of the document is now deceased before you shred their paperwork. Some records (e.g. GP overviews) need to stay accessible for up to ten years after the patient dies. You can do this by cross-referencing other records or via the government's Will and Probate search if you're not already informed. If a living patient specifically requests it in writing, you can dispose of their records in line with GDPR (2018) provisions.
Effective Storage Solutions
Once you've categorised your medical documents, secure a sunlight-free, dry, and securely locked space with archive racks for your long-term record storage. Safety, controlled access, and environmental protection are crucial. You can also electronically copy decaying paperwork, ensuring better retention standards and peace of mind. EMRs (electronic medical records) have no set disposal schedule attached.
If you don't have that extra space available, why not talk to CAS? We specialise in providing off-site, high-security, affordable storage for valuable medical records and much more.
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