NHS England rethinks Care.data roll-out

NHS England has abandoned its plan to fully roll out the controversial Care.data patient records sharing scheme by Autumn 2014

NHS England has abandoned its plan to fully roll out the controversial Care.data patient records sharing scheme in the Autumn.

Instead, a trial with up to 500 GP practices will go ahead as planned before further decisions are made over future timescales.

The initiative – whereby GP patient records would be uploaded into a central database to improve medical data analytics – has already been delayed once after a public backlash over privacy concerns.

The scheme was originally due to start earlier this year, but a series of reports about sensitive patient data being sold to commercial organisations led to an outcry. In February 2014 the Care.data launch was put back by six months.

Now the head of the project, Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s national director for patients and information, has scrapped the Autumn deadline, and said the priority is to get Care.data right first.

“We are now proposing to phase the implementation of Care.data and work with between 100 and 500 GP practices in the Autumn to test, evaluate and refine the data collection process ahead of a national roll out,” he said in an announcement on the NHS England website.

“We do not subscribe to artificial deadlines here – we will roll it out nationally only when we are sure the process is right.”

Care.data was widely criticised for failing to adequately inform the public and GPs about the implications of sharing patient records.

Leading medical organisations such as the Royal College of General Practitioners (RGCP), the British Medical Association (BMA) and Healthwatch called for improved public awareness of the plan. An NHS publicity campaign intended to raise awareness of the scheme saw leaflets delivered to every affected household in England – but many people ignored them as junk mail.

Kelsey said that since the original delay, NHS England has been “listening to the views of patients, the public, GPs and stakeholders on how best to build trust and confidence in this project”. Legislation is also being prepared to put further legal safeguards in place over how confidential records can be used outside the NHS.

“The government has already acted to put before Parliament legislative proposals that mean all uses of the data will be subject to robust independent scrutiny and that no uses will be permitted that are not for the benefit of patients. An organisation that wanted to handle the data on its own premises would need to demonstrate it could safely do so, or risk being barred from doing so,” said Kelsey.

“In all cases, there will be complete transparency of all those permitted access to this data and for what purpose. In this way patients will know how their data has been used for improvement of services.”

Care.data is intended to improve healthcare by applying modern data analytics techniques to drug research and medical care to speed up development of new medication and health practices.

The aims of the scheme have been widely welcomed, but critics accused the NHS of ignoring concerns over privacy and data protection.

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