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Four in 10 GPs to opt out of NHS database
Family doctors raise concerns about new plans to share patients data
Four out of ten GPs intend to personally opt out of the NHS’s new data sharing programme, a survey has found.
Every household is being sent a leaflet this month informing them that from April, their medical histories will be shared with researchers and pharmaceutical companies on the database unless they opt out.
The plans for a giant database are controversial, and on Tuesday The Telegraph revealed that they could be scuppered by proposed European Union laws which would render the scheme illegal.
Researchers and major medical charities say the digital storage of mass data will advance medical science, helping them understand the causes of disease, spot side-effects to new drugs and detect outbreaks of infectious diseases.
Privacy campaigners claim that individuals could be identified by pharmaceutical companies who could use information to target products and profit from people’s illnesses, though officials say this would not be allowed.
A poll of GPs has found that 41 per cent are so concerned about the plans that they intend to opt their own records out of the care.data scheme.
The survey of nearly 400 GPs conducted this week found the profession split over whether to support the care.data scheme, with 41 per cent saying they intend to opt-out, 43 per cent saying they would not opt-out and 16 per cent undecided.
Care.data will see patient records extracted from all GP practices, linked to secondary care data and made accessible to researchers and private companies for a token fee.
NHS IT chiefs have insisted that patients’ data will usually only be shared in anonymised or “pseudonymised” form – meaning that it is difficult, but not impossible, for a person to be identified. When identifiable data is released, it would be subject to strict privacy safeguards and a public interest test, they say.
But the scheme has caused consternation amongst GPs, who have a legal obligation to ensure patients are aware what will happen to their personal data.
In the survey by Pulse magazine, GPs who said they intend to opt their own medical records out of the care.data scheme said that this was because of concerns over the security of the data and the way the scheme was to be conducted.
Dr Ian Williams, a GP in Tunbridge Wells, Kent said: “I wish to opt out as I am concerned about identifiable data being moved around and passed on to third parties.”
Dr Marie-Louise Tidmarsh, a GP in Horsley Woodhouse, Derbyshire, said that she would be opting out as her details could easily identify her to her neighbours.
She said: “I think patients have been misled about the “confidential” nature of the data extractions, and it is not clear to whom the data may be sold.”
But GPs who will leave their data opted in said the scheme had great potential benefits for improving patient care.
Dr Francesca Lasman, a GP in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, said: “Real data from people with multiple conditions and on many medications gives at least a chance of some meaningful analysis and a start for the best approach to tackling prevention and treatments.”
An NHS England spokesperson said: “Sharing information about the care you have received helps us understand the health needs of everyone and the quality of the treatment and care being provided, and our work to improve data collection and usage is supported by both the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Medical Association.”
Nigel Praities, deputy editor of Pulse, said: “GPs have a legal responsibility to protect the confidentiality of their patient’s data and this survey shows significant unease among the profession about the implications of NHS England’s care.data scheme.
“The ongoing publicity campaign is a start, but many GPs feel this is too little – and too late – to ensure that patients know what is going to happen to their personal medical information unless they take proactive steps to opt out of the scheme.
“Most GPs do not object to data being shared, but many are unhappy at the way this is being done by the NHS.”