Plans to allow an NHS system to extract patient data from doctors’ surgeries in England have been delayed amid concerns around privacy. It follows the launch of a crowdfunder by five organisations and an MP who aim to stop the “NHS data grab”.
The Canary reported that:
the Tories flogging off our medical data isn’t new. Previously, a single government body was doing it, and the government claimed that it was all legal. It also said that people’s info was anonymous, but some campaign groups disagreed.
A coalition group made up of Just Treatment, Doctors’ Association UK, The Citizens, openDemocracy, The National Pensioners Convention, and David Davis MP launched a crowdfunder to challenge the “data grab”. The crowdfunder read:
On 3 June Just Treatment, Doctors’ Association UK, the Citizens, openDemocracy, the National Pensioners Convention and David Davis MP sent a legal letter (a letter before claim) to the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS Digital. The legal letter says that rushing such a major change through with no transparency or debate violates patient trust, and doing so without seeking patient consent is unlawful. The case asks for a halt to the GP data grab with an injunction, and to rethink and seek meaningful patient consent.
The new GP data-sharing system was due to start in July but has been pushed back to September 1, a health minister told MPs. Health minister Jo Churchill insisted that the data programme will still go ahead this year.
Your health data has helped NHS organisations and researchers to roll out vaccines and identify those most at risk from COVID-19. We’re simplifying the way we gather data from GPs to support vital health and care planning and research. https://t.co/9zQ1FvIFH3
— NHS Digital (@NHSDigital) May 26, 2021
The coming weeks will see the plan “strengthened” and work undertaken to “ensure that data is accessed securely”, she said.
The information commissioner welcomed the delay to the launch. Elizabeth Denham said there remains “considerable confusion regarding the scope and nature” of the programme.
The scheme will collect information on people’s treatments, referrals, and appointments over the past 10 years, alongside other data from medical records held on GPs’ systems.
The collected data is coded by NHS Digital to protect patient identities.
Churchill told the House of Commons:
Data saves lives, it’s as simple as that. We’ve seen that in the pandemic, it’s one of the lessons of the vaccine rollout.
The GP data programme will strengthen this system and save lives and patient data is of course owned by the patient.
And we are absolutely determined to take people with us on this journey. We have therefore decided we will proceed with the important programme but we will take some extra time.
As we have conversed with stakeholders over the past couple of days, the implementation date will now be on September 1 and we will use this time to talk to patients, doctors, health charities and others to strengthen the plan, build a trusted research environment and ensure that data is accessed securely.
This agenda is so important, because we all know in here, data saves lives.
Find out more here 👇 https://t.co/p8T7qgHVjn
— NHS Digital (@NHSDigital) May 26, 2021
Simon Bolton, chief executive of NHS Digital, 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.
We intend to use the next two months to speak with patients, doctors, health charities and others to strengthen the plan even further.
We have published a statement in response to concerns around the GP Data for Planning and Research programme.
— ICO – Information Commissioner's Office (@ICOnews) June 8, 2021
The programme, GP Data for Planning and Research, will supersede a 10-year-old system which “needs to be replaced”, NHS Digital said.
It will not collect entire GP records.
And all the data will be pseudonymised before it leaves the GP surgery to ensure patients cannot be directly identified from the data.
Information will be accessed by organisations “which will legitimately use the data for healthcare planning and research purposes”, and all requests will be subject to independent oversight and scrutiny, NHS Digital said.
Patients will be able to opt out.
Information commissioner Denham said:
I welcome the decision to delay the launch of the General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) data collection scheme.
The appropriate use of health data is an important part of health and care research and planning in England, and better sharing of health data could offer substantial benefits.
However, it is clear that there remains considerable confusion regarding the scope and nature of the GPDPR, among both healthcare practitioners and the general public. This includes how data protection rights can be exercised in practice.
It is sensible for NHS Digital to take more time to engage with its stakeholders, and consider the feedback it is receiving about its plans.
The success of any project will rely on people trusting and having confidence in how their personal data will be used.
Data protection law enables organisations to share data safely and, when it comes to using health information, there are particular safeguards that must be put in place to protect people’s privacy and ensure effective transparency. This ensures people’s data isn’t used or shared in ways they wouldn’t expect.
We look forward to continuing to engage with NHS Digital regarding this important project.
Shadow health minister Alex Norris said:
This must now mean that all elements, including the opt-out, are delayed and there must be a full public consultation about this issue before the data collection is resumed.
Leading GPs also welcomed the delay.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said:
It is essential that this time is used to properly communicate with the public and with clinicians so that patients and GPs have trust in the programme.
Surveys show that most patients are happy for their data to be used for legitimate planning and research purposes, but this must be built around trust.
What data will be shared, with which organisations, how and why this will be done – and, in particular, what safeguards are in place to ensure data is not used inappropriately – must be communicated effectively with patients and healthcare professionals, so that they have trust in the programme.
Dr Farah Jameel, executive team member of the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, 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 communication from NHS Digital on this programme has, frankly, been either inadequate or non-existent.
While the BMA understands that data-sharing plays a key role in planning and research as well as developing treatments, we also know that the crux of the GP-patient relationship relies on trust, transparency and honesty, and therefore allowing the public to make fully informed decisions is paramount.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?