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NHS ‘bullies’ threaten to axe GP for keeping his patients’ records private: He opts his entire practice out of scheme to harvest medical data
- Public ‘has not been properly informed about data collection project’
- Dr Gordon Gancz pledged to keep his patients’ details off the database
- This led Health Service bosses to threaten to close his Oxford surgery
- He says NHS is trying to ‘bulldoze’ doctors and patients into complying
A rebel GP faces having his practice shut down after vowing to opt all of his patients out of a flagship NHS scheme to harvest their medical records.
Under the scheme, private medical information will automatically be extracted from patients’ records unless they opt out.
But there are growing concerns over the data collection project, with critics saying the public has not been properly informed about it.
And yesterday it emerged that Health Service bosses threatened to shut down Dr Gordon Gancz’s GP surgery because he pledged to keep his patients’ details off the database.
Dr Gancz, who has been at his Oxford practice for almost 40 years and first revealed himself to Pulse magazine, accused the NHS of using ‘blatant bullying’ tactics to ‘bulldoze’ doctors and patients into complying with the scheme.
The GP told how he was sent a ‘threatening’ email warning him that he would be ‘in breach of his contract’ if he did not automatically opt his patients in to the scheme.
He said it also contained the ‘Big Brother-ish’ demand that he remove a statement on his surgery’s website which warned patients that he was ‘concerned’ about the scheme and told them: ‘We have decided to assume that all our patients wish to opt out of this data extraction.’
Under the ‘care.data’ scheme, which is due to start in the spring, the data will be used by the Health and Social Care Information Centre to build a nationwide database to help identify poor performance in the NHS – such as areas with long waiting times or where conditions are being diagnosed late.
Officials also believe the new system could help target additional resources in areas where there is a pressing clinical need, and say the data collection could even lead to new treatments.
|EMAIL SENT TO DR GANCZ
An edited version of the email from NHS England’s Thames Valley Area Team:‘We wish to discuss the remediation [remedy] needed because you have published on your practice website information about the care data extraction indicating that you intend opting your patients out of the data extraction unless they contact you to opt in.
‘This is contrary to NHS England’s requirement that patients will automatically be included unless they indicate to their practice that they wish to opt out…
‘We therefore believe any GP who prevents the care.data extraction by opting out part or the whole of his list without their consent to be in breach of his contract.
‘NHS England requires you to remedy this breach by… [removing] any opt out codes which you have applied to your patients’ medical records without their prior consent. The Area Team would like to discuss this with Dr Gancz prior to the issue of a remedial notice.’
But there is widespread concern among MPs, academics and doctors that the information could fall into the hands of hackers or be sold to private health companies, insurance firms or drug manufacturers for use in targeting patients.
Dr Gancz said: ‘They don’t want me to tell my patients that their confidential data is going to be taken, but my patients have a right to know.
‘I believe research is important – medicine is all about research – but patients should positively want to release their information.
‘In many cases patients will not even know that this scheme is about to start so they will not have an opportunity to opt out, should they so wish.’
He added: ‘The Government and NHS are acting very surreptitiously. I believe they want to capitalise on people’s inertia and hope that those who do not understand what is happening simply won’t bother to opt out.’
On Friday a letter from NHS England’s Thames Valley Area Team was emailed to the practice manager at Dr Gancz’s King Edward Street surgery.
The letter requests that the GP take down certain sections of his website bulletin to patients, and remove any ‘blocking’ codes he may have already inserted in his patient’s records which signify that the information they contain cannot be harvested.
Dr Gancz is one of two GPs known to be so opposed to the scheme they have removed the thousands of patients on their books from it unless they have specifically asked to be included. The other GP remains anonymous.
‘They don’t want me to tell my patients that their confidential data is going to be taken, but my patients have a right to know’
Dr Gordon Gancz
A spokesman for NHS England said: ‘We want patients to understand how important their information is to improving outcomes and ensuring we all receive the highest standards of care.
‘If a patient wishes to object to their information being used for purposes beyond their direct care they must do so autonomously, based on balanced, accurate information about how and why their information will be used.
‘It is not right for GP practices to make this decision on their patients’ behalf.’
HOW THE CONTROVERSIAL PROJECT WILL WORK
The contentious NHS project of harvesting patients’ data will begin this spring.
Even children will be included in the scheme, which sources information on prescriptions, diagnosis of any illness or condition including depression and mental illness, scans, tests, operations and treatments.
The data will be stored anonymously so patients’ names won’t be recorded but their date of birth and NHS number will be.
The NHS says the information will be used to identify poor care such as areas where patients are waiting long times for appointments or are not being prescribed the correct treatment.
In future, they also hope that it will pinpoint cures. Patients have to speak to their GP if they don’t want their data extracted. They can do this over the phone or in person – it will depend on the surgery.
GPs will then put a note on their file to warn officials that they have objected to the plans.
The only data which won’t be uploaded onto the database is so-called ‘sensitive’ information on abuse, abortions or sexually transmitted infections.