Labour urges NHS Digital to halt patient data-sharing plans

Pooling pseudonymised medical records risks undermining doctor-patient trust, warns shadow health minister

Labour has urged the NHS and Matt Hancock to halt plans to share medical records with third parties and offer more consultation into how the idea would work, over fears it will undermine patient trust.

The plans aim to pool pseudonymised medical records on a database that can be shared with academic and commercial third parties for use in future planning and research. 

The shadow public health minister, Alex Norris, said he shared the concerns of some doctors groups in a series of tweets, posted on Friday. These concerns have been formalised in a letter the MP has sent to both the head of NHS Digital and the health secretary, according to The Guardian.  

Norris called for a "coordinated" and "consistent" message and more details as to which third-party organisations will have access to patient data and whether they will be made public or used for marketing purposes. Norris has also called for safeguards to be put in place to protect confidential patient data and a right for patients to remove their historical data from any future collection.

"I share concerns raised by patients, GPs and the health sector about the changes to data sharing," the MP for Nottingham North posted on Twitter. "The response to COVID has shown the benefits of collaborative planning and research as we have all bound together to tackle the challenges it has posed.

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"However, for data sharing to work, it must be built on trust. I share concerns about the lack of communication with patients on this issue, and on the lack of consultation. Without consultation and clear communication with patients, trust in this process is undermined."

These concerns are shared by the Royal College of General Practitioners, which urged NHS Digital to explain the plans more clearly to the general public and outline how people could opt-out. Patients can reportedly opt out, but only if they do so before 23 June.

The British Medical Association and the Doctors Association also said it was worried that the data-sharing agreement would "erode the doctor/patient relationship, leaving patients reluctant to share their problems due to fears of where their data will be shared", according to The Guardian.

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