Skip to main content

Sharing data to help with the Covid-19 vaccination programme

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: coronavirus, Data
A needle and vaccine are held by someone wearing a latex glove
Data supplied by DWP Digital was used to help the Covid-19 vaccination programme

As we write this blog, the Covid-19 vaccination programme here in the UK has continued to progress, offering hope for a return to some sort of normality soon. Here at DWP Digital, we’re proud to have played a small but significant part in the programme by helping NHS England to identify unpaid carers.

Unpaid carers were included in the 6th priority group for the vaccination programme, as it would allow them to continue their caring responsibilities with reduced risk to themselves and the person they care for. In order to ensure that the programme could continue at full pace, there was an urgent need for NHS England to identify people in this group as quickly and accurately as possible, so that they could receive their vaccination.

That’s where DWP became involved. As the department responsible for benefits such as Carer’s Allowance, we hold a large amount of data on people who would qualify for this stage of the vaccination programme.

However, it’s not as simple as just handing over this data to another government department. A bulk transfer like this between our department and the NHS had never taken place before, so we were having to develop a process to manage the delivery of the data whilst managing the security and legal issues around it, all on a demanding timescale.

A demanding timescale for collaboration

Cross-government collaboration and sharing of information is a vital part of our everyday work. Projects like the Winter Fuel Discount Scheme rely on collaboration between departments, while sharing statistics is vital to ensure accurate statistical reporting. The work on unpaid carers was different however, as there was a much more demanding timescale due to the nature of the vaccination programme.

Even more important than the speed of delivery was ensuring the accuracy of the data we could provide to NHS England, and the security of that data at all stages of the process. It was essential that both departments could be confident of this when bringing our different systems together.

Looking at the accuracy of the data, as a department we wanted to ensure that we identified everyone that could be classed as an unpaid carer. That’s not just those who receive Carer’s Allowance (CA), but those who are classified as a carer but because of their particular situation don’t receive the benefit. There are also people who qualify as recipients of Universal Credit with a Carers Element. Identifying these people was quite complex, as we needed to do significant discovery work to ensure which data items were required.

Ensuring the process was secure

From a security point of view, there were three elements for us to consider. Ensuring the data was secure during transfer was the first – we had to assess the solutions suggested by the NHS alongside our Enterprise Security and Risk Management (ESRM) team.

Once that was complete, we had to be confident that the data was secure when ‘at rest’ with NHS England. Although the NHS was accountable at this stage, we had a responsibility to ensure that they understood the sensitivity of the data, and that we understood their data architecture. Discussions between the data leads on both teams and confirmation of the details in the Data Sharing Agreement meant we could be confident in this stage.

Finally, we also had to ensure that the security of our wider DWP systems when interacting with external systems was considered. Even with another public body there is still a risk to our department when dealing with data transfer, so it’s important that this was considered by the ESRM team as well.

Transferring the data

Once we were confident with the accuracy of our data, happy with a secure system for the transfer and the required legal governance was in place, we were able to move forward with the data transfer. After a test exchange was conducted, we supplied data on approximately 789,000 recipients of CA on 17 February, and a further 127,000 people receiving other caring-related benefits on 2 March.

Using this data, NHS England were able to identify around 540,000 carers who hadn’t already been offered vaccinations. The work on this project has also allowed us to prepare for any further requests that could come through to the department in relation to the vaccination programmes, such as needed to identify those who might be classified as homeless.

Unpaid carers provide a lifeline for people with a disability or health condition, even more so during the pandemic when many of those they care for have been shielding. It was a really proud moment for the Data as a Service team here at DWP to play a part in getting these people priority access to the vaccination, so they can continue to provide this valuable service.

Want to work on projects like this that make a difference? Take a look at our Careers site for the latest vacancies.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Mark Knight posted on

    It was a privilege to work alongside Nicky and other DWP Digital colleagues on this piece of work which helped ensure that hundreds of thousands of unpaid carers were offered a vaccine earlier than would otherwise have been the case.

    • Replies to Mark Knight>

      Comment by Nicky Tarry posted on

      Thanks Mark it was great working with you on this. We had to hit the ground running, which we did, quickly working out our roles in the ad-hoc team we pulled together.

  2. Comment by R posted on

    Although this is about transfer of useful and sensitive data the "required legal governance" I suspect was probably a lot harder than it appears.
    Is that a fair statement?

    • Replies to R>

      Comment by Nicky Tarry posted on

      Hi R, it certainly was! Identifying legal powers/vires, developing a data sharing agreement, data protection impact assessment, assessing transfer methods and data transfer request approval all started from scratch. Whilst both NHS and DWP each have a wealth of experience in data sharing with other organisations, DWP hasn't shared data with NHS before in a way that would give us a head start. Also, as we worked with the NHS digital staff to understand the requirement and develop the appropriate technical solution, we had to revisit the governance with lawyers, DPO colleagues and others.

      • Replies to Nicky Tarry>

        Comment by Julian posted on


        May I ask what the legal power/vires was for DWP to share the data? I'm guessing it wasn't common law powers as available via the principles of the Ram Doctrine.

        Thank you.

        • Replies to Julian>

          Comment by Nicky Tarry posted on

          Thank you for your question Julian. It was common law, though I can understand you thinking it wouldn't be. DWP can't always use common law for data sharing and we need to consider on a case by case basis. After careful consideration, we concluded it was appropriate in these very specific circumstances. It was the right thing to do as it would involve saving lives in an unprecedented situation.

  3. Comment by S Hancock posted on

    Really interesting insight at how the Department have been able to assist in providing this information. How were those that are unpaid carers and not claiming benefits picked up? As there are so many of these too.

    • Replies to S Hancock>

      Comment by Mark Knight posted on

      SH – I can help with this one. NHS England and DHSC were pulling together a number of strands, of which data from DWP was just one. For example, they also gathered information from LAs based on Carer’s Assessments and from GP surgeries on those who were flagged as a carer. This enabled them to produce a consolidated list of unpaid carers to write to, including large numbers who weren’t on benefit.

  4. Comment by Beatriz Hernandez posted on

    Very interesting, thank you for sharing. I joined the mass vaccination programme and I volunteer as a Health Champion in Westminster and on the ground I could see how critical it was to make sure all carers were offered a vaccine promptly and the difference it makes.