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Plans to allow NHS system to extract patient data from doctors’ surgeries should be paused to address privacy concerns, says Labour

CORPORATIONS will be licking their lips at the prospect of accessing NHS patient data, campaigners charged today, as Labour attacked government plans to share medical records with third parties.

Labour urged the NHS and Health Secretary Matt Hancock to pause the General Practice Data for Planning and Research scheme, amid fears that trust between GPs and their patients could be undermined.

In a letter to Mr Hancock and NHS Digital head Sarah Wilkinson, shadow public health minister Alex Norris said he backed the principle of improved data collaboration to help fight Covid-19, but he warned the system was not without risk and called for more consultation on the proposals. 

The plans, also criticised by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the British Medical Association (BMA), will see data collected over the last 10 years from GP surgeries in England added to a central anonymised database, with new information added on a rolling basis as doctors receive it. 

The scheme will allow some private-sector organisations access to patient data, with approval from advisory groups. People only have until June 23 to opt out of the scheme.

Pascale Robinson of the We Own It campaign group warned: “Private companies looking to profit from the information it provides will be licking their lips at the prospect of making millions.

“While there is no doubt that access to patient data has the potential to deliver huge benefits for public health, any transfer of records has to be consensual [and] done with adequate safeguards.

“This approach falls short on all of those accounts and represents a blatant privatisation of patients’ data. It is utterly reprehensible and has to be stopped.”

Keep Our NHS Public co-chair Dr John Puntis said: “The government’s opaque and underhanded approach to data harvesting will undermine public trust in the NHS, with the potential for damaging long-term consequences.”

A government spokesperson said the Covid-19 vaccine rollout was dependent upon access to patient data. 

“The new programme for collecting data has been developed in collaboration with doctors, patients and data, privacy and ethics experts to improve systems for data collection. 

“We continue to engage with the BMA and RCGP, and remain committed to being transparent with the public.”

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