Exclusive - Call to keep data from private firms

GPs in the West Midlands are being warned to 'think very carefully' before allowing practice data to be seen by private providers such as UnitedHealth Europe (UHE).

UHE has signed a two-year contract worth more than £500,000 with Birmingham and Black Country SHA and its constituent PCTs to address the problem of patients who present too often at A&E.

The Long-Term Conditions Informatics programme involves PCTs collecting data directly from practices via a software tool. Some of the data will be sent to UHE, which will use it to identify patients most likely to utilise secondary care via A&E. The data will include details of contacts with primary care, medication and diagnoses.

But Birmingham LMCs have warned that GPs will be handing UHE 'a huge amount of data on their patients' that the firm could use for its own commercial advantage.

UHE runs a similar programme in Trent, where it has won contracts in the past four months to take over two Derby practices.

Dr Robert Morley, executive secretary of Birmingham LMCs, said: 'Our concern is that GPs may be providing information to UHE that could put the GPs out of a job in the future. Our advice is to be very circumspect about signing up to this scheme.'

However, Ruth Lemiech, Birmingham and Black Country SHA project manager for the UHE collaboration, said PCTs had to 'ensure a level playing field' if contracts to supply medical services were put out to tender.

She added that although data would be extracted automatically, GPs would be able to 'eyeball the data that is being extracted first for their own peace of mind'.

UHE chief executive Dr Richard Smith denied that data collected for the project could be used for any other purpose. He insisted that all data would be anonymised and that UHE was bound by Caldicott rules.

Data extraction from the first 50 volunteer practices is scheduled to start at the end of March.

As GP went to press, a High Court judge suspended the signing of a contract that would hand over a Derby GP surgery to UHE after a patient complained that there had been insufficient consultation.

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