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MPs concerned about care.data

Published on 27/02/14 at 10:51am
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MPs have expressed concerns about security in the delayed NHS care.data programme which will see medical information routinely swapped between different areas of the healthcare sector.

Earlier this week NHS bosses were called before the UK House of Commons health select committee to give evidence on the proposed database, which is to be built up from GPs’ records and linked to hospital archives.

The giant project was due to launch in April but will now not be rolled out until the autumn after NHS England admitted that it needs more time to convince the public of its merits, as  doctors groups had been saying.

The data will be managed by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), whose director of information and data services, Max Jones, came under fire at the select committee hearing.

He told MPs that it was not possible to answer the question of which organisations have already received patient information before April 2013, which is when the centre was set up.

But Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston said that in January 2012 the hospital admissions records of 47 million people - including their diagnoses, treatments, ages and areas in which they lived - from 1989 to 2010 were given to the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries to help with setting insurance premiums.

This goes to the heart of concerns that have been raised about care.data - namely, who medical information might be given to and whether individual patients would be able to be identified from it.

Health committee chairman Stephen Dorrell said he would write to health secretary Jeremy Hunt to ‘pursue’ the matter of data releases.

Jones said the HSCIC was thinking about getting care.data records anonymised before they left GP practices, which might make the process more secure - although such a move would presumably require more resources to be earmarked for GPs.

Advocates of care.data say it will enable them to assess diseases, examine new drugs on the market and identify infection outbreaks as well as monitor the performance of the NHS.

NHS England says it has sent a leaflet to every household in England - although this claim has been disputed by Labour - and has put articles ‘in all the major newspapers’.

It has also put information on the NHS Choices website and on social media, and ‘cascaded’ information via 350,000 patient groups and charities, it insists. But NHS England accepts this has not been enough, and will now spend more time and money on getting its message across.

Adam Hill

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