Cameron to allow private companies to access patient data

Data from patient records could be shared with private companies as part of a move to boost biomedical research in the UK, according to media reports.

Mr Cameron is to allow access to patient records by private companies
Mr Cameron is to allow access to patient records by private companies

The plan will aim to allow private companies to access anonymised NHS data to boost research efforts and give patients earlier access to new treatments by changing drug licensing laws.

Mr Cameron is set to announce the plans on Monday afternoon.

But concerns have been raised over how patient data will be used by private companies.

Under the proposals, to be issued for consultation, medical companies would be able to access anonymised NHS data, including patient records, to aid research.

The aim is to better use the vast amount of clinical data harvested from the three million patient contacts that occur each day in the NHS.

Ministers want to attract further investment to the life sciences sector in the UK, which is already worth £50bn a year and employs 160,000 people.

Mr Cameron will also announce a £180m fund to boost translational research, turning laboratory breakthroughs into commercial products, according to news reports.

Dr Sarah Chan of Manchester University’s Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovations, said concerns over the privacy and confidentiality of patient data had perhaps been 'overblown' as data would be anonymised.

But 'a far greater concern' was the use of such data by private companies, she said. 'There are many ways in which research based on collected health data could be of great benefit to the public, such as bringing new medicines to the clinic more quickly and helping us to understand the basic biology of human disease.

'But when science is driven by private interests and motivated by private gain, we have no assurance that it will produce the benefits that should lead us, the public, to support it.'

Roger Goss, of campaign group Patient Concern, said: 'This is the death of patient confidentiality. There is no guarantee that information will be anonymised. In any case, anonymised data can just as easily be re-identified.

'We understand GP surgeries will have the right to refuse to release their patients' records. But whether patients will ever be told what is happening, let alone have the choice to protect their privacy, is still unclear.

'Patient Concern was invited to join a patient consultation committee by the DoH team designing the scheme. We discovered that it was a standard government-style project - decide, consult, defend, implement. We had been recruited to applaud rather than advise.

'We resigned in protest and have been chased ever since by the team to try to get us back onboard.'

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