Fight to Stop Patient Data Grab Not Over

NHS Digital must keep word on Minister’s ‘tests’ to keep GP records secure

The National Pensioners’ Convention warns the battle over NHS Digital’s controversial GP ‘data grab’ is not over despite it being postponed.

While the NPC welcomes the government’s ‘three new tests’ to ensure the secure collection of 55 million patient files from GPs in England, the UK’s largest pensioners’ group remains concerned that they are already backtracking.

The NPC and its coalition partners pressured NHS Digital into postponing the controversial move twice – on 1 July and then 1 September. But they warn they will continue to closely monitor the consultation process.

NPC General Secretary Jan Shortt said: “Millions of patients are still in the dark about this mass collection of their most sensitive medical files.

“Through pressure from our coalition campaigners to stop the GP data being taken and used without the consent of individual patients, NHS Digital and the government have taken a step back.

“While this is good news, we will be keeping a strict eye on what is done and said in the coming months, particularly on how they communicate with every household in England about their plans. Because so far, they have done virtually nothing to publicise them - not to mention that they have so far excluded huge numbers of people who cannot go on online either to find out about the collection, or to opt out from it.”

Government Minister for Primary Care and Health Promotion Jo Churchill announced on 19 July that NHS Digital’s data collection would be postponed until three new tests were met. These cover the ability for patients to opt-out of the data collection, assurances met on ‘approved researchers’ whom the files could be shared with, and crucially a ‘campaign of engagement and communication’ to increase public awareness and their choices.

However, the NPC is concerned that the government is already backtracking after Innovation Minister Lord Bethel* told Parliament’s health select committee just a day later – on 20 July - that he won’t commit to writing to every NHS patient to inform them about the changes to GP data.