NHS data transfer delayed

The transfer of GP records to a centralised NHS database is set to be delayed to 1 September, following objections from numerous senior GPs and campaigners.

The move was originally set to take place on July 1 but has been delayed by two months to give NHS Digital time to “talk to patients, doctors, health charities and others to strengthen the plan, build a trusted research environment and ensure that the data is accessed securely,” according to chief executive Lord Bethell.

NHS patients will need to opt-out before 1 September to stop their past data being transferred to the database.

The transfer includes patient data created up to 10 years ago, which includes information about gender, ethnic background, and previous diagnoses, but does not cover names or full addresses.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham highlighted that there is "considerable confusion regarding the scope and nature" of the move, welcoming NHS Digital’s decision to push back the transfer.

NHS Digital has said the data will be made available to third parties for a fee but claimed that no data will be shared for “solely commercial reasons”.

The NHS data sharing with private corporations attracted criticism throughout the pandemic; it became subject to legal action in February on allegations of indulging lobbying from US-based data analytics firm Palantir.

Consultancy firm Ernst & Young estimated the total value of NHS data at £9.6 billion a year in 2019.

“We are absolutely determined to take people with us on this mission,” said Simon Bolton, chief executive of NHS Digital. “We take our responsibility to safeguard the data we hold incredibly seriously.”

“Now the government needs to meaningfully involve people and answer key questions,” said Cori Crider, co-founder of digital rights group Foxglove. “How will the trusted research environment work? On what terms will corporations be given the keys to the incredible asset that is the nation’s health data?”

“This data belongs to patients, and they fund the NHS so it should be their choice.”
He added: “But for now, we and our partners are pleased that, however belatedly, the government saw sense.”

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