Government is forced to delay its NHS data grab by stealth

The government has been forced to postpone its plans for a massive, nationwide data scrape of people’s confidential NHS records.

Matt Hancock: faced possible court action over the NHS data grab

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.

Thanks: how Jeremy Corbyn responded to the news of the data grab postponement

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.

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2 Responses to Government is forced to delay its NHS data grab by stealth

  1. I objected the first time this came round and asked that my details weren’t included because I don’t trust the NHS on data security. But I can see the huge advantages of using these massive data sets in medical research. They need to convince us that they’ve cleaned up their act. Remember the NHS’s patient records fiasco – apparently the biggest IT disaster ever? Bill is £10 billion so far…

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    I am with Christopher on this but also for other reasons. Language used by medical professionals causes horrendous problems when used and interpreted by non medical professionals. The NHS (and many organs of state including councils) have gone Digital way in advance of the communities they serve and have ignored those unable to move forwards digitally. These include our most vulnerable members of society. All Politicians and employed public officers are fully aware that Digital security is like a colander and to an extent that will always be so by it’s nature. Any person stating that data will always be secure and not misused is incompetent delusional or intentionally dissembling.
    There are other ways of obtaining this data properly in great quantities to enable informed medical research and enabling patient safety. But seriously if I take all my neighbors belongings and sell them all in a jumble sale without compensating them and without their knowledge I am sure the Law would take a view leading to my having a new residence for a while involuntarily. is not your own personal data and information your belonging? There should always be a default opt in not a default position of opting out sent digitally as there are millions who do not even have this ability to be online digitally and millions more who are not IT literate or competent – Is it not time the Equality and Information Commisioner’s began looking at this rampant injustice also?

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