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10th Jun 2021


The national data opt-out service was introduced on 25 May 2018 following recommendations by the National Data Guardian who in her independent review of data security, consent and opt-outs (2016) said: 'A patient should be able to state their preference once (online or in person), confident in the knowledge that this will be applied across the health and social care system.'

The Patient Data Choices Project is a collaboration between NHS Digital and the Royal College of General Practitioners and has delivered a series of events and portfolio of resources to inform primary care teams on the national data opt-out so that they can confidently and accurately advise patients and carers on their data sharing options, and to support primary care teams to uphold the national data opt-out within their own practice.

How patients set a national data opt-out


  • People will be able to set an opt-out online, through a supported telephone service (like the eReferral service) or by submitting a paper request
  • Children under 13 and those who lack capacity may not be able to set an opt-out themselves. In such cases individuals who have a formal, legal relationship to act on behalf of the patient (i.e. somebody who has parental responsibility, a legal power of attorney or court appointed deputy) will be able to set a proxy opt-out on their behalf. This is to enable equality of opportunity for everyone to be able to opt out and will also reduce the burden on GP practices
  • The national data opt-out choice is set by the individual and does not require any action by the person’s General Practice


Routes to set an opt-out - online

The preferred route for people to set a national data opt-out preference is through the website, which has information about the national data opt-out to help people make an informed choice. To set an opt-out online, the individual is required to verify their identity by providing their name, date of birth, NHS number or postcode. They will then be presented with their mobile phone number and/or email from the Patient Demographic Service (PDS) so that a secure one-time password can be sent to them. This ensures the patient is in control of the process.

If a person cannot confirm their identity they can use the telephone service to guide them through the service or set a choice on their behalf. The website is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from 25 May 2018.

Routes to set an opt-out - Supported telephone service

People can set their national data opt-out choice using a telephone service on 0300 303 5678. When calling this service patients will need to confirm their identity by providing their NHS number, name and date of birth. If the patient does not know their NHS number the contact centre may ask for their postcode to confirm a match. The patient will also need to have an email or mobile phone number recorded on PDS to receive a verification passcode.

Calls to this number should cost no more than calls to a normal personal or business geographic landline number (numbers starting with 01 or 02), whether calling from a landline, or mobile phone.

The telephone service is available 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, excluding English bank/ public holidays.

Routes to set an opt-out – Non-digital (Paper)

Patients can also obtain a form to fill in and post to register a national data opt-out preference. The form can be obtained via the website or the national telephone service. To use the non-digital route a patient can either use their NHS number, or two forms of identification one to confirm name and the other to confirm address. When a patient updates their choices through the non-digital paper route they will receive confirmation, and can choose to receive this by letter or email.

Cannot be set via GP

The national data opt-out choice CANNOT be set by the GP or other member of the practice staff and is not stored or implemented through the use of codes in the GP system. National data opt-outs are held by NHS Digital on a central repository on the Spine.   

In order to ensure that identifiable data for patients with a restricted access setting against their PDS record (also known as a Sensitive flag) is not released for secondary purposes, a national data opt-out has been set for all patients with such a restricted access setting. The process for setting this flag on PDS has been updated so that a national data opt-out can be set or un-set as part of this process.  See the ‘Restricting access to a patient’s demographic record’ section below.

Children and People with Lasting Power of Attorney

Patients can set their national data opt-out choice from the age of 13 through any of the available routes. This age is based on the minimum age in data protection legislation and is not based on any assessment of competence. Any national data opt-out set by a parent or guardian prior to age 13 will remain in place unless and until the patient reviews and changes it.

For children under the age of 13 a national data opt-out can be recorded by someone with parental responsibility. Once a young person passes the age of 13 the person with parental responsibility will no longer be able to set a national data opt-out.

Someone with legal authority to act on behalf of an individual e.g. Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) or court appointed deputy can set a national data opt-out choice on behalf of that individual. For example a daughter with LPA could set a choice for her elderly parent with dementia. Anyone who wishes to set a national data opt-out on behalf of someone else will need to use the ‘by post’ forms or speak to the telephone service.  

To set an opt-out on behalf of someone else, they will need to supply their own name, address, postcode and a signed declaration of parental responsibility to act on behalf of the individual for whom they are setting a choice. They will also need either the name and NHS number for the person for whom they are setting the choice, or name and two identification documents (one for name and one for address).

Supporting Information