Concerns raised by staff over NHS patient data sharing scheme

Records would be ‘pseudonymised’ –so that a patient’s date of birth, NHS number and postcode will be replaced by a code.

James McKay
4 June 2021
Nurse Discussing Test Results With Patient

Privacy campaigners have raised concerns about the proposals.

The NHS has announced plans to publish the medical histories of 55 million patients on a new national database to support research and analysis which can be used to improve health and care services.

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Privacy campaigners have raised concerns about the proposals which will allow the NHS to share records containing sensitive information with third parties.

But the NHS has responded to say that patient information would not be used for solely commercial purposes and researchers looking to access the database would need prior approval.

Records would be ‘pseudonymised’ –so that a patient’s date of birth, NHS number and postcode will be replaced by a code.

There are currently two different ways to opt-out, via the NHS website.

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Patients who choose the ‘national data opt-out’ which prevents NHS Digital from using their data or sharing it and a ‘Type-1 opt out’ which stops NHS Digital from collecting patient information in the first place.

Very sensitive information.

Senior health leaders are calling for a more transparent process – including informed consent to share the records.

Labour’s London Assembly Health Spokesperson, Dr Onkar Sahota AM, said “It’s important that the NHS has the resources it needs to improve its services and prepare for future public health emergencies, and that is the aim of this data collection scheme. But there is no escaping the fact that the communication around this has been short of the mark so far.

“We are talking about the collection of very sensitive information and unless we see the public messaging ramped-up and the deadline for opting out pushed back, this is going to take a lot of Londoners by complete surprise.

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“We need to make sure that the centuries old understanding around patient-doctor confidentiality is upheld, so the Government has to be totally transparent in what they’re doing here and set out how they are going to protect this data.

“I am particularly concerned about the most vulnerable Londoners, who in the first place won’t necessarily be aware of their right to opt-out, and if they choose to exercise it, they might not have easy access to the internet to do it by the current deadline.

“Arguably, the process for opting out is not as simple as it could be and the NHS needs to explain this process as clearly as possible”.

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