Plans to transfer English GP patient records to a central NHS Digital database have been delayed until September 1st.
Under the General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) programme, data from records created up to 10 years ago will be transferred into a central database. In addition, new data will be added almost in real time.
The original deadline had been set at June 23rd.
“We have decided we will proceed with the important programme, but we will take some extra time, as we have conversed with stakeholders over the past couple of days,” said Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care Jo Churchill in the House of Commons.
According to her, the additional time will be used to strengthen the plan by discussing it with doctors and patients to ensure data is accessed securely.
The Royal College of General Practitioners had previously called on Health Secretary Matt Hancock to delay the move. The group claimed that the delay would provide time to tell patients about the transfer so they could make informed decisions about the use of their data, including opting out.
In addition, the organisation noted that many GPs were too busy to alert patients.
Chair of the Royal College of GPs Professor Martin Marshall said: “It is essential that this time is used to properly communicate with the public and with clinicians so that patients and GPs have trust in the programme.
“In principle, improved and more secure sharing of data for healthcare planning and research purposes is a good thing. We have seen during the Covid-19 pandemic just how important the appropriate use of GP patient data is in responding to a health crisis, but it is also important in normal times to plan for better overall service provision and public health strategies, and enhanced understanding of diseases and treatments for serious illness.”
Marshall continued: “We want to see a comprehensive campaign, led by NHS Digital and accessible to all members of the public, which should include every patient being communicated individually with, clearly articulating the benefits and risks of data sharing so that patients can make a genuinely informed decision about whether they are happy for their data to be shared – and if they are not, how they can opt out.”
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The data will be used to help research – proponents of the scheme have cited how rapid access to large amounts of patient data helped the University of Oxford develop treatments for the coronavirus.
Critics have warned that the NHS Digital database could be used to pass patient data on to third parties for commercial reasons.
NHS Digital has that the data would only be used for healthcare planning and research, not for insurance or marketing purposes.
CEO of NHS Digital Simon Bolton said: “Data saves lives and has huge potential to rapidly improve care and outcomes, as the response to the Covid-19 pandemic has shown. The vaccine rollout could not have been delivered without effective use of data to ensure it reached the whole population.
“We are absolutely determined to take people with us on this mission. We take our responsibility to safeguard the data we hold incredibly seriously.
“We intend to use the next two months to speak with patients, doctors, health charities and others to strengthen the plan even further.”