NHS data grab delayed by three months

The NHS has delayed plans to share NHS medical records from every GP patient in England with third parties.

Health and social care minister Jo Churchill announced this week that the patient data sharing programme would be now rolled-out on 1 September instead of 1 July.

Patients previously only had until 23 June to opt-out by presenting a form to their GPs.

Churchill said the extra time would be used to “talk to doctors, patients and charities to strengthen the plan.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) called the new development “an important win for patients, family doctors and the BMA”.

However, privacy campaigners say more needs to be done to publicise the plans and give people the choice to opt-out.

Phil Booth of privacy organisation, medconfidential, said: “Nothing said means that patients will definitely have more information after the delay over the summer.” 

WHY IT MATTERS

Campaigners, the BMA and the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) are among those who have expressed concern that the plans have not been well-publicised, leaving doctors to inform patients.

There are also fears about sensitive information on GP records being shared, including mental and sexual health, criminal records, smoking, drinking habits and instances of domestic abuse.

NHS Digital says the current system for collecting patient data is more than 10 years old and needs replacing.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

Previous NHS plans to put GP records in a central database under the Care.data programme were abandoned in 2016 after outcry from campaigners and the public.

ON THE RECORD

Newly appointed CEO of NHS Digital, Simon Bolton, said: “Data saves lives and has huge potential to rapidly improve care and outcomes, as the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown. The vaccine rollout could not have been delivered without effective use of data to ensure it reached the whole population. We are absolutely determined to take people with us on this mission. We take our responsibility to safeguard the data we hold incredibly seriously.”

BMA GP committee executive team member and IT lead Dr Farah Jameel said: “We know from our members that many family doctors feel that all their patients may not yet know what’s changing, and many practices do not believe that they themselves have been given the right level of information nor adequate time to comprehensively understand the programme, its merits and the safeguards it will operate within. It’s clear that previous communications from NHS Digital on this programme has, frankly, been either inadequate or non-existent.”

Foxglove director Cori Crider said: “We and our partners are pleased that, belatedly, the government has seen sense. Now it needs to properly involve people and answer key questions. The government must make sure every single patient in England is meaningfully informed about what is happening to their data.”

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