IT services company Atos has won an £8m five-year contract to provide a computer system that will retrieve patient information across GP practices.
The firm will provide a General Practice Extraction Service (GPES), designed to enable comparable data extractions across the NHS. The Department of Health (DH) said the service will provide improvements to patient care by providing access to practice level information.
The service will also play a role in the proposed new process for providing payments to GPs and clinical commissioning groups.
Patient data privacy concerns
But campaigners have warned that the system could lead to widespread privacy breaches of confidential patient information.
Dr Neil Bhatia, a Hampshire GP said there was little confidence that the data will be truly and safely anonymised. “If the DH truly believes that patients want their data used in this way (they might for research, I suspect not for “commercial interests”), then they should have the decency to ask patients first – so much for patients in control of their data. Without explicit consent, this would be unacceptable if practices are going to be releasing identifiable data.”
Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said the NHS had a systemic problem protecting patient information. “These proposals pay lip service to privacy, but the small print makes clear that patient identifiable information will be available. Furthermore, under the proposed system patients have no ability to prevent their medical information being published if those running the system regard it as ‘effectively anonymised'.”
He added: “The government’s healthcare data strategy is being pursued too fast, without first ensuring privacy safeguards are genuinely effective and that patients are aware of what is being proposed.”
Reducing administration burden for GPs
Atos will supply the software system that will produce queries required to extract specified data from the range of GP practice systems across England. The service will begin to deliver data by April 2013.
Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, said: “GPES will offer an unprecedented, standardised picture of primary care information across England, while protecting patient confidentiality, through robust information governance principles, and minimising administrative burdens for GPs and practice staff.”