The government has been forced to postpone its plans for a massive, nationwide data scrape of people’s confidential NHS records.
The NHS’s 55 million patients had been given just six weeks’ notice that their medical histories could be sold on to third parties, in what was described as a “data grab by stealth, under the cover of a pandemic”.
Faced with a real prospect that Tory health secretary Matt Hancock could be dragged into court by GPs angry at the scheme, the government announced that it was delaying its NHS Digital project until September 1. Patients concerned at the prospect of information on their mental and sexual health, criminal records, abuse and drugs use being made available to academic researchers and businesses can still opt out, but now have a few weeks more to do so.
The decision was welcomed by opposition politicians and medical professionals alike.
“Thanks to everyone who stood up against the Tories’ NHS patient data grab,” tweeted Jeremy Corbyn.
The British Medical Association and Royal College of General Practitioners had expressed their concerns “about the lack of communication with the public”.
In a joint letter, they have urged NHS Digital to “take immediate action to run a public information campaign”.
Welcoming the delay, Prof Martin Marshall, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, said “appropriate use” of data was important for improving healthcare but added that any system should be “built around trust”.
He said the NHS should communicate with “every patient… clearly articulating the benefits and risks of data sharing so that patients can make a genuinely informed decision about whether they are happy for their data to be shared – and if they are not, how they can opt out”.
Speaking in the House of Commons, health minister Jo Churchill said ministers would use the extra time to “talk to doctors, patients and charities to strengthen the plan… and ensure data is accessed securely”.
Churchill said, “Patients own their own data.”
Patients can prevent their new data being shared at any time, but would need to opt out before September 1 to stop past data being transferred to the new system.
- Click here to see MedConfidential’s advice on how to opt out.
- Click here for a copy of the opt-out form in pdf
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