NHS England postpones controversial care.data launch until autumn

NHS England's decision to delay extraction of patients' medical records as part of the government's care.data scheme until the autumn has been welcomed by the BMA.

Dr Nagpaul: 'it was clear from GPs on the ground that patients remain inadequately informed about the implications of care.data.'
Dr Nagpaul: 'it was clear from GPs on the ground that patients remain inadequately informed about the implications of care.data.'

The scheme, due to be launched in weeks, has faced a barrage of criticism from GPs for being communicated poorly both to GPs and patients. 97% of GPonline.com readers thought the launch should be postponed.

NHS England wants to ensure patients have ‘more time to learn about the benefits of sharing information and their right to object to their information being shared'.

GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘We are pleased that NHS England has listened to the concerns of the BMA and that the decision has been taken to delay the roll out of extractions to care.data until the autumn. With just weeks to go until the uploading of patient data was scheduled to begin, it was clear from GPs on the ground that patients remain inadequately informed about the implications of care.data.

‘While the BMA is supportive of using anonymised data to plan and improve the quality of NHS care for patients, this must only be done with the support and consent of the public, and it is only right that they fully understand what the proposals mean to them and what their rights are if they do not wish their data to be extracted.

‘This is all in the best interests of patients and GPs, and the BMA looks forward to working with NHS England to ensure that the public is properly informed and that safeguards are in place before uploads begin.’

Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s national director for patients and information, said: ‘To ensure that the concerns of the BMA, RCGP, Healthwatch and other groups are met, NHS England will: 

•      Begin collecting data from GP surgeries in the Autumn, instead of April, to allow more time to build understanding of the benefits of using the information, what safeguards are in place, and how people can opt out if they choose to;

•      Work with patients and professional groups – including the BMA, RCGP and Healthwatch – to develop additional practical steps to promote awareness with patients and the public, and ensure information is accessible and reaches all sections of the community, including people with disabilities;

•      Look into further measures that could be taken to build public confidence, in particular steps relating to scrutiny of ways in which the information will be used to benefit NHS patients;

•      In the meantime we will work with a small number of GP practices to test the quality of the data. This will be voluntary.’

RCGP honorary secretary Professor Nigel Mathers said: ‘We would like to thank NHS England for listening to the concerns of RCGP members and for acting so quickly to announce this delay. The extra time will provide it with the chance to redouble its efforts to inform every patient of their right to opt out, every GP of how the programme will work, and the nation of what robust safeguards will be in place to protect the security of people's data.

‘The college has supported the principles of the care.data initiative from the outset, as we believe that it will help the NHS improve the quality of care for patients and to better prepare for outbreaks of infectious disease.

‘However, the lack of information and awareness led to a crisis of confidence among patients and a lack of clarity for GPs about what safeguards would apply.’

Dr Louise Irvine, London GP and MEP candidate for the National Health Action Party, said: ‘It would have been reckless of NHS England to press on with the care.data plan given the serious concerns about the security of patient information and that fact that less than a third of households were even aware of having received a leaflet about the scheme.

‘I hope this six-month pause will be used not only to make the public aware of the project and their right to opt out, but also for a thorough investigation into the many security concerns surrounding it.

‘This is another example of a badly thought-out, poorly executed and profligate policy by this government.’

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