As published in the Mail on Sunday:
NHS climbdown over ‘big brother’ database after the Mail on Sunday highlighted serious concerns over the plan
Health bosses have been forced into publicising a ‘big brother’ database of medical records, after The Mail on Sunday highlighted serious concerns over the plan.
Millions of medical notes are to be uploaded from GP surgeries to a national computer database under the scheme, which Ministers hope will attract drug firms to the UK to help with their research.
Health bosses insisted it was not necessary to inform the public directly. Instead, they would rely on doctors telling patients or putting up posters in surgery waiting rooms.
But in a climbdown, NHS England will now spend £1.2 million on mailshots to every home in England after MPs criticised the scheme as an ‘enormous threat’.
NHS England insists patient information will always be anonymised before being shared with third parties, such as universities and private companies. It says the project will provide a valuable tool for medical research, monitoring flu outbreaks and screening for common diseases.
But campaigners fear ‘identifiable’ data will be released to the wider NHS and even private firms such as Bupa.
In August, privacy campaigners told this paper there were ‘huge risks’ with putting so much patient information into so many hands.
Last month, we revealed how GPs across the country were threatening to boycott the ‘care.data’ scheme, in part because patients were not being told data would automatically be shared unless they objected. And two weeks ago prominent Tories raised concerns, with MP David Davis describing the scheme as a ‘honeypot of data’ to hackers that was ‘an enormous threat to privacy and patient trust’.
Now, NHS England has bowed to pressure and agreed to send leaflets to all of England’s 22 million homes, while it is also setting up an £800,000 information line in January.
Patients will then have four weeks to tell their GP surgery if they want to opt out – meaning the actual ‘data extract’ has been delayed from this autumn to next spring.
An NHS England spokeswoman denied it had made a U-turn. ‘We never said there was no need for a national campaign,’ she said.