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Google's DeepMind can read 1.6 million NHS patients' records

AI division has a data-sharing deal with the Royal Free NHS Trust

Stethoscope next to keyboard and coffee cup

DeepMind, Google's artificial intelligence company, is able to access 1.6 million NHS patient records thanks to a data-sharing agreement with the Royal Free NHS Trust.

The deal, revealed in a document obtained by New Scientist, gives DeepMind access to healthcare data for the 1.6 million patients attending any of the Royal Free NHS Trust hospitals in London Barnet, Chase Farm and the Royal Free.

The deal also includes patient data from the last five years, including that from critical care and accident and emergency departments.

DeepMind's partnership with the NHS started in February, when they worked on an app called Streams, designed to help hospital staff monitor patients with kidney disease. The data-sharing agreement is directly related to this project.

Google argued that, because data on these patients is not separated, it needs access to all patient data in order for the app to work effectively.

The information available to the company includes day-to-day hospital activity logs, results of some pathology and radiology tests, and patient visitors. It is not clear whether patients can opt out of the agreement.

Despite access to this data, however, the deal states that Google cannot use it in any other parts of its business, and it will be stored by a third party only until the agreement expires in September 2017.

After this date, all records must be restored to the NHS or destroyed.

The document revealed that Google is working on the Patient Rescue platform, designed to provide analytics services to NHS hospital trusts and help staff adhere to the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines.

The NHS has previously been criticised over its controversial care.data plan, which aimed to collect patient data from GP medical records to share with the national Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

Patients and GPs pushed back against the plans after it was revealed that the data collected would potentially identify individuals, as well as a system that did not make it clear to patients that they could opt-out of sharing their information. Last month, the HSCIC finally agreed to opt-out patients who had chosen not to share their data.

The project was given a 'red' status by the Major Projects Authority following news that 47 million NHS patients' medical data had been accessed by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries in 2013 in order to help insurance companies 'refine' their premiums, according to the Telegraph.

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