Government delays NHS data scrape by two months after privacy concerns

8 June 2021, 13:02 | Updated: 9 June 2021, 09:54

Plans for a mass NHS data scrape have been pushed back amid privacy concerns
Plans for a mass NHS data scrape have been pushed back amid privacy concerns. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

The government has delayed the mass collection of patient data for a centralised NHS system by two months after pressure from campaigners.

The new system is set to extract information on people's treatments, referrals, and appointments over the past decade, alongside other data from medical records held on GPs' systems.

Medical professionals, including the British Medical Association (BMA), have criticised the lack of communication with the public about the process has been "completely inadequate".

Health Minister Jo Churchill told MPs on Tuesday that the implementation of the new system has been pushed back to 1 September.

READ MORE: Pause plans for NHS data sharing scheme, Labour urges

Having been asked for an update on the plan by Conservative Robert Largan, Ms Churchill told the 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 roll-out.

"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."

Addressing concerns over the lack of awareness of the scheme, Ms Churchill said: "As we have conversed with stakeholders over the past couple of days - the implementation date will now be on 1 September 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."

READ MORE: NHS staff burnout ‘extraordinarily dangerous’ for future of service, MPs warn

The BMA says on the current timescale patients only have until 23 June to decline having their coded health data given to NHS Digital.

Labour had called for a pause amid concerns around privacy.

Patients' GP data will be extracted to a centralised NHS system from 1 September
Patients' GP data will be extracted to a centralised NHS system from 1 September. Picture: PA Images

An NHS Digital spokesperson previously said: "Patient data saves lives. We could not have delivered the Covid-19 vaccine rollout if we had not used data to ensure we reached the whole population, prioritising them in the most effective way.

"In the interests of patient safety it is important to learn lessons from the pandemic and modernise our practices.

"The new programme for collecting data has been developed in collaboration with doctors, patients and data, privacy and ethics experts to build on and improve systems for data collection.

"We continue to engage with the BMA and RCGP regarding GP Data for Planning and Research.

"We are exploring further options to expand our communications approach and remain committed to being transparent with patients and the public about the collection and use of data.

"We expect GPs to be ready to implement this new system from 1 July, which will provide benefits to patients across England, and are ensuring support is in place to enable them to do this."