Medical professionals criticise ‘inadequate’ communication over NHS data system

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22:21pm, Fri 04 Jun 2021
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Medical professionals have criticised a new NHS system to extract patient data from doctor’s surgeries in England, saying communication with the public about the process has been “completely inadequate”.

The scheme will collect information on people’s treatments, referrals, and appointments over the past 10 years, alongside other data from medical records held on GPs’ systems.

The collected data is coded by NHS Digital to protect patient identities.

But the British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) say the scheme is being implemented too fast, without sufficient patient consultation.

The organisations have called for an immediate delay to the rollout of the system to allow more information to be given to the public and more time to opt-out.

The BMA says on the current timescale patients only have until June 23 to decline having their coded health data given to NHS Digital.

Daily “extracts” of the coded data from practice systems to NHS Digital will then begin from July 1, it said.

BMA GP committee executive team member and IT lead Dr Farah Jameel said: “Everyone deserves to know what happens to their healthcare data, and throughout our discussions with NHS Digital about this programme, we have stressed the importance of clear communication with the public.

“People need to fully understand what this programme means and crucially, how to opt-out of their data being shared, if this is what they want to do.

“Recent weeks have shown that communication from NHS Digital to the public has been completely inadequate, causing confusion for patients and GPs alike.

“Family doctors have a duty to their patients, and have their best interest at heart – so are understandably hesitant to comply with something that patients may know nothing about and that they themselves do not fully understand, even if this is a legal requirement.”

Data from GP clinics has previously been used by the NHS to help identify those most vulnerable to coronavirus and prioritise groups to receive the vaccine.

An NHS Digital spokesperson said: “Patient data saves lives.

“We could not have delivered the Covid-19 vaccine rollout if we had not used data to ensure we reached the whole population, prioritising them in the most effective way.

“In the interests of patient safety it is important to learn lessons from the pandemic and modernise our practices.

“The new programme for collecting data has been developed in collaboration with doctors, patients and data, privacy and ethics experts to build on and improve systems for data collection.

“We continue to engage with the BMA and RCGP regarding GP Data for Planning and Research.

We are exploring further options to expand our communications approach and remain committed to being transparent with patients and the public about the collection and use of data.

“We expect GPs to be ready to implement this new system from 1 July, which will provide benefits to patients across England, and are ensuring support is in place to enable them to do this.”

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