The NHS has pushed back plans to consolidate the complete medical histories of 55 million patients in England into a single database after considerable pressure from activists, politicians and patients.
NHS Digital, which manages the health department’s computer systems, has confirmed plans for the database, which will be made available to academic and business third parties for research and planning.
However, Lord James Bethell, Deputy Minister of Health in the House of Lords, said on Tuesday that the program, which was originally scheduled for July 1, would now be delayed by two months until September 1.
“We will use this time to talk to patients, doctors, health charities, doctors and others to strengthen the plan, create a reliable research environment and ensure secure access to data. ”Bethell said.
Simon Bolton, Managing Director of NHS Digital, said: “We are absolutely committed to bringing people with us on this mission. We take our responsibility to protect the data we hold very seriously. “
The government was threatened last week with an injunction if it did not suspend plans, with signatories including Conservative MP David Davis warning that the program would be “illegal” without the patient’s consent. In response to the allegation, NHS Digital said the plan had been approved by the Information Commissioner’s office.
Labor MP Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary, had also called for the deployment to be delayed, saying sensitive data such as “termination of pregnancy, issues of domestic or sexual violence, issues of drug addiction or alcohol abuse “was shared without knowledge of the patients.
Speaking to Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the House of Commons on Monday, Ashworth asked: “Given the secrecy, given the haste and difficulties to step down, won’t he now consider to drop that, put this on hold for now and start a transparent consultation process with patients and clinicians? ”he said.
Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, said: “It is clear that considerable confusion remains regarding the scope and nature of the [data-sharing plans], both among health professionals and the general public. . . It makes sense for NHS Digital to take more time to engage with its stakeholders and take into account the feedback it receives on its plans. ”
In the House of Lords on Tuesday, Baroness Sal Brinton, spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats for health, asked why a data protection impact assessment had not yet been released, to which she had not not received a direct response.
She told the Financial Times that she was concerned about the non-publication and whether it was deliberate or “bogus.”
“Clearly, the minister did not understand what I was asking. . . I suspect that the non-publication of the DPIA is one of the problems of the ICO, ”she said.
The delayed deployment would only give the NHS an extra three weeks, after factoring in the six weeks of summer vacation, Baroness Brinton added. Activists said it was still not clear how the Ministry of Health and Welfare would handle the problem in the future.
“Now the government needs to meaningfully engage people and answer key questions. How will the trusted search environment work? Under what conditions will companies receive the keys to the incredible asset that is the nation’s health data? Said Cori Crider, co-founder of digital rights group Foxglove, who was one of the parties threatening legal action.
“This data belongs to the patients and they fund the NHS, so it should be their choice. But for now, we and our partners are happy that, even belatedly, the government has understood the meaning. “