Healthy disposal of inefficiencies

ShreddingGenerating cost savings is a key message resonating throughout the health sector and driving efficiencies across vital administration processes will play a pivotal role. With strict policies in place governing record management within the NHS and private healthcare, it is essential that any re-evaluation of operating procedures guarantees compliance with the Data Protection Act, particularly the disposal of confidential information.

As all health records are confidential and contain sensitive information about identifiable individuals, it is of the upmost importance that any processing is carried out in accordance with the Data Protection Act (DPA). Processing includes holding, obtaining, recording, using, disclosing, disposal and destruction of records. It is worth noting that the DPA applies to personal information generally, not just to health records, therefore the same principles discussed in this article apply to records of employees held by employers, for example in finance, personnel and occupational health departments within the healthcare sector.

Retention policy
Under the freedom of information legislation it is particularly important that the disposal of medical records – defined as the point in their lifecycle when they are either transferred to an archive or destroyed – is undertaken in accordance with established retention policies. Healthcare organisations are responsible for producing their own retention schedules locally, based on internal requirements. However, retention periods should not be shorter than the minimum period set out in the Department of Health’s Records Management Code of Practice.

While the destruction of records is an irreversible act, the continuing cost of storage and archiving of records for long periods can be high. Records (including copies) not selected for archiving that have reached the end of their administrative life should be destroyed in a secure manner and in accordance with the DPA. It is the responsibility of the organisation to ensure the method used for the destruction process provides adequate safeguards against accidental loss or disclosure of records.

Non-compliance with the DPA heralds serious consequences and can result in criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement, audit or a monetary penalty notice of up to £500,000. It therefore makes sense for healthcare establishments to procure the services of a secure document shredding company. By following straightforward steps in the appointment of the right document shredding supplier, healthcare organisations can not only save money but also have peace of mind that confidential information is securely disposed of.

Secure procurement
Health records in particular are of a sensitive and confidential nature; subsequently security is the most important consideration during the procurement process. A shredding supplier should operate to ISO9001:2008 incorporating BS EN15713:2009, the European standard for the destruction of confidential information and be prepared to sign any necessary confidentiality contracts. Before appointing a supplier it is crucial to validate these accreditations and confirm how they will keep information secure prior to the shredding process.

An accredited supplier will provide locked secure consoles or bins that are strategically located and vary in size according to requirements. In addition, confidential shredding bags need to be supplied, to ensure any additional information is kept secure. These bags should feature a peel and seal lip and have the ability to be shredded and recycled along with confidential information. The customer service operators who handle the confidential information collections must be uniformed, carry identification and have been vetted to BS7858, a ten year background check.

Many healthcare organisations operate from multiple locations or sites. When appointing a supplier to drive a reduction in costs, take advantage of buying power by seeking out a shredding partner that can offer a single source agreement for multi-sites. Before any formal agreement is entered into, the shredding supplier should offer a free review that includes a full proposal of the current and proposed situation. This should also take into account any regular record appraisal policies, including archive clearances that are in place. To ensure that the shredding service remains competitive and as efficient as possible, it is recommended that regular reviews are undertaken throughout the duration of the service agreement.

The single largest cost when using a secure shredding service is the placement of the consoles and frequency with which they are emptied. To ensure the most cost effective service, it is important to find a provider that can offer rapid response times and a degree of flexibility with the methods of confidential document destruction.

Destruction methods
There are two main methods of document disposal; on-site and off-site. Both of these offer healthcare establishments different benefits. On-site shredding is carried out by mobile shredding trucks that travel to the premises to shred documents. An accredited provider will allow the records manager to witness the shredding process and at the end present a certificate of destruction, which is confirmation that the information has been shredded. The certificate can form part of the necessary information that is maintained and preserved by the records manager about the destruction of records. For these reasons on-site shredding is often the preferred method for health organisations.

Once the information has been shredded it is compacted into the back of the truck and the paper is baled and sent for recycling. The main benefit of on-site shredding is that it offers the records manager peace of mind that all confidential documents are destroyed before the operator leaves the premises.

Off-site shredding involves a slightly different process and is better suited to larger or one-off consignments, such as periodical archive clearances. Customer service operators remove the confidential information from the consoles, bags or locked bins into a secure vehicle. Prior to leaving the site, the operator will provide a certificate describing exactly what has been removed. Within 24 hours of collection, the information is shredded via large industrial shredders, baled and dispatched for recycling. A certificate of destruction is subsequently issued.

The environmental impact

Regardless of the method put into place, it is important, particularly as healthcare operations are often public sector organisations, that the environmental impact of the shredding service is also taken into consideration.

Reducing this impact is not just limited to the recycling of the baled paper but also the delivery of the service. For example, using a supplier that can offer the latest mobile shredding trucks not only ensures fewer vehicle emissions but delivers maximum throughput to reduce the operating time on-site. Remote engine start-stop allows the operator to switch off the truck whilst further collections of information are made from around the site. Furthermore, it is worth identifying a supplier that has off-site plants utilising electric motors because these run at very low amps in comparison to traditional industrial shredders.

Industry best practice mandates that all baled paper should be sent to UK or European paper mills for recycling. A reputable supplier should be able to comply with any specific recycling requirement that contributes to an environmental policy. A reputable supplier should also be able to remove and responsibly dispose of any other waste materials, such as surplus cardboard or plastic items, from the premises. This not only reduces the number of waste management suppliers, but also the vehicle emissions from numerous collections. However, the main driver for procurement in the health sector at the present time will be genuine cost savings.

Shredding inefficiency

Combining central and local healthcare organisations to source a single agreement that incorporates multi-sites is the most cost effective way of delivering a secure shredding service. Committing to scheduled services offers a stronger negotiation position, as the document shredding supplier will be able to provide cost savings based on regular paper sales.

Contracting a supplier that will constantly suggest ways of improving the service is important when driving efficiencies. For example, a supplier whose mobile shredding trucks feature legal for trade scales will be able to monitor the amount of paper each location produces. This information can be used to determine whether the service level is correct or if more consoles are required or collections are too frequent.

Whilst cost is always a primary consideration, of equal importance should be the ease of service management. The ability to view service reports, future schedules, print certificates of destruction and request additional ad-hoc services online undoubtedly saves time.

These simple improvements to a secure shredding service can drive significant cost reductions. However, when undertaking such an exercise it is important to remember that using a specialist confidential document destruction company is the simplest way to ensure confidential health records are disposed of in a controlled and compliant manner.

About The Shredding Alliance
The Shredding Alliance (TSA) was established and is owned by a number of the UK’s leading independent confidential shredding and recycling companies. Offering a secure on-site and off-site document disposal and recycling service, TSA uses a network of local operators to deliver a nationwide service for multi-site customers. A single source document destruction supplier, the management team has in excess of 100 years’ combined experience and is focused on providing its customers with value for money and exceptional service levels.

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