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NHS gives go-ahead to patient database despite privacy fears

Health officials are to go ahead with their plan to gather the personal data of millions of NHS patients, despite the concerns of many over privacy. The data will be uploaded unless patients specifically opts out.

The Telegraph reports:- “A pilot scheme involving 265 GP surgeries and 1.7 million patients will involve confidential medical information being put on a giant database, it was disclosed.

The data, which includes details of childhood illnesses as well as recent medical conditions, will be uploaded unless a patient specifically opts out. Those behind the £50  million data-sharing plan say it will improve healthcare and help medical research.

The Care.data scheme was supposed to start last spring, but officials were forced to delay its implementation following opposition from senior GPs and privacy campaigners.

NHS England states that they have “listened carefully” to the concerns of doctors and patients and insist safeguards will prevent the sensitive information falling into the wrong hands.

However, experts say the safeguards are unclear and are concerned that the NHS has a poor track record of losing patients’ data.

NHS England, supported by Jeremy Hunt, says the data is hugely valuable and will identify poor care and possibly help to find new remedies.

Opponents are concerned that the information could fall into the hands of hackers or insurance companies who will use it to increase premiums for patients with certain conditions.

There have been repeated complaints that information about how to opt out has been unclear.

Despite this, the pilot schemes will launch in six Clinical Commissioning Groups local GP-led organisations – spanning West Hampshire, Blackburn and Darwen in Lancashire, Leeds and Somerset. They will cover up to 265 surgeries and, given an average practice size of 6,500, nearly 1.7million patients.

Unless patients specifically opt out in writing or by word of mouth to their GP, their data will be uploaded automatically.

The information will include a patient’s date of birth, NHS number and postcode – but not their name.

However, experts say it would be very easy for hackers or private organisations to identify patients from the information stored.

NHS England does not yet know when the full project will begin but it is likely to be within months. Last February – a month before the scheme was due to get under way – it called a temporary halt following fierce opposition from doctors and patients…”