The NHS Number must be used as a single patient identifier across the health and social care system, under a new law which comes into effect today.

The Department of Health says that from today, there is a “legal requirement for health and adult social care organisations to share information with each other when they are working together to provide direct care and treatment to a patient."

To make sure this is happening, health professionals will now have to use a patient’s NHS Number as a single identifier to ensure the information they share is accurate and up-to-date.

The DH says use of the number when sharing information will reduce the chance of mistakes, drive up patient safety and make the sharing of information between care settings more efficient.

Life sciences minister George Freeman said: “This is great news for patients and their carers, who all too often have to repeat their diagnosis at each stage of treatment. So we are mandating that all health and care providers make sure the next person treating the patient knows their history.  

“Having an up to date patient record is vital for patient safety, reducing misdiagnosis or treatment errors, and empowering patients and their carers and loved ones with up to date information on their care.

“By making a patient’s record available digitally we are empowering patients, facilitating integrated NHS and social care and underlining our commitment to use the power of data for the benefit of all in a 21st Century NHS."

The Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Bill, was put forward by Conservative MP for Stafford Jeremy Lefroy with the aim of updating the Health and Social Care Act 2012 with several provisions around the safety and quality of patient care.

The use of a common identifier is in line with the National Information Board’s 'Personalised Health and Care 2020' IT framework, which says the DH is working with NHS England, the Health and Social Care Information Centre and local authorities “to agree how the NHS Number can be universally adopted”.

Natalie Bateman, head of health, social care and local government at trade body Tech UK said: "Mandating the use of the NHS Number as the primary identifier for patients is a significant step towards integrating care across the continuum.

"The news will be welcomed by the informatics industry – our members often cite inconsistent use of the identifier, particularly in social care, as an obstacle to unlocking the full potential of information sharing."

Andy Aroditis, chief executive of NextGate Solutions believes that while the mandated NHS number is a positive move, it will not alone be enough to achieve integration of information across health and social care services.

“Current patient administration systems, for example, might not have the ability to adopt and communicate the NHS number which presents challenges in accurately identifying patients," he said.

“Wider identification processes, such as those part of enterprise master patient index technologies, help to facilitate the correlation of different numbering schemes making patient identification much more comprehensive and  reducing the likelihood of mismatching of records between organisations.”