Information governance is turned into a “black art” by some people in the NHS who use it as a barrier to sharing information, an Information Commissioner’s Office spokesperson has said.

ICO group manager public services Dawn Monaghan said it was a “myth” that data protection is a barrier to sharing information.

“Data protection is not there to stop you sharing information, it’s there to enable you to share information in a safe way,” she explained.

She said there are cases where IG is turned into a “black art” by people wanting to stop a project going forward.

The ICO is trying to kick start work with NHS Human Resources departments to help people understand what their responsibilities are in relation to data.

Monaghan was speaking at a session at last week’s Health In4matics conference in Birmingham, exploring issues around IG in the changing NHS environment and the “myths and legends of data sharing."

A clinician from Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust commented that IG is often used as a barrier against information sharing by risk averse local controllers. He suggested the idea of an independent national panel to act as an arbiter of these decisions.

Dame Fiona Caldicott, who is leading an independent review of the balance between patient confidentiality and information sharing, said she had heard this idea before and was interested in investigating it further.

Presenting at the event, she said questions were arising about the role of data controllers and information governance during the transition brought about by the Health and Social Care Bill.

While primary care trusts were traditionally responsible at dealing with IG, there were questions about whether CCGs were ready to take on the responsibility of commissioning data flows.

Local government also had new responsibilities with regards to public health data flows, but had variable records on their ability to deal with that.

Dame Fiona said there was anxiety about the role of commissioning support services.

“Clearly they’re going to have a lot of power in commissioning world, covering large areas of the country and at the moment we have a silence on how – being established – they see their responsibilities in this area,” she said.

Dame Fiona said she was concerned about the fragmentation of people experienced in managing and advising on IG issues across various different agencies.

The Care Quality Commission was likely to take up some of the responsibilities currently held by the National Information Governance Board.

“There are dangers in having different bodies responsible for IG in their areas, where do they get that expertise that comes from regularly working in the area?”

Added to concerns about expertise, were issues around independence as traditionally, many people giving advice to organisations on IG matters were independent of them.

“It’s very concerning that we are going to lose that independent view that can be very helpful for challenging people who are doing things with data that are not on the legislative framework,” she explained.

Dame Fiona said while it was right to be concerned about the wide access to information provided by technology, people should also focus on the security of the piles of paper often scattered around health organisations.

“We need to be much more aware of IG wherever information is, not just worry about technology,” she added.

Dame Fiona said the NHS Future Forum had been very clear about the need to balance the benefits of sharing information with issues of security and privacy.

“Many clinicians behave as if the data is theirs. The data is the patient’s data,” She said, adding that there needs to be more discussion with patients about what information they expect to be shared between the different clinicians involved in their care.

She said her 15 member panel would be working hard over the coming months to determine the scope of the review and work through these issues.