Conservatives to scrap centralised NHS database

The Conservatives have announced plans to scrap the centralised NHS database, and replace it with local systems controlled by clinicians.

In a move it describes as a 'radical shift away from Labour's top-down and centralised approach to IT', the party pledged to renegotiate the monolithic 'local service provider contracts', allowing NHS trusts to pick their own IT system, and enable patients to edit their own records.

The plans were outlined in a review of the National Programme for IT, chaired by former British Computer Society chairman Dr Glyn Hayes.

The report argued that the national database was ‘unnecessary’ and ‘has caused extreme anxiety’ about security. Instead, patient databases should be as ‘small and localised as possible’, it said.

It also said that patients should be able to keep their personal health records on online databases, and suggested that the NHS could buy-in commercial technology from companies like Microsoft or Google, cutting the bill to the public sector.

The report criticised National Programme for IT's (NPfIT's) focus on the summary care record, which had held back other innovations such as e-prescribing. It also argued that it should fund IT systems chosen by local users, and make sure they could talk to each other, rather than imposing a single national system regardless of need.

The review also chastened the government for using NPfIT as an excuse to gather data on the public.

‘The executive must not regard health informatics as a tool to extract data from the NHS, but as a way of organising information around the needs of the patient,’ it said.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, questioned whether a shift to databases held by the private sector would be secure, or how it would be funded.

But she added that: ‘There have been major problems with the national NHS IT programme and we support the principle of greater local decision-making.’


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