Tesco Clubcard founder worried about Care.data

One of Britain’s pioneers of big data has raised his concerns about NHS England’s use of data and its Care.data programme

One of Britain’s pioneers of big data has raised concerns about NHS England’s use of data and its Care.data programme.

Clive Humby, now chief data scientist at Starcount, said the Care.data roll-out worries him and, while he admitted a national system has the power to do a huge amount of good, the NHS is risking it all because it has been so badly managed.

“Just because we can do things,” he said. “Doesn’t mean we should.”

In 1989 Humby co-founded Dunhumby, the company behind the Tesco Clubcard, which was one of the first examples of using big data in retail.

Speaking at the Big Data Breakfast in London this morning, Humby warned about the consumer backlash that comes when big data isn’t used correctly and privacy is threatened.

This echoed the controversies surrounding the Care.data programme and its plans to expand the collection of patient care data from hospitals to include general practices.

The furore came to a head in February when failure to explain the benefits to the general public forced the NHS to put plans on hold for six months.

NHS England has since admitted it has failed to explain the benefits of care.data to patients.

Humby said NHS England needs to understand the limits and the societal norms citizens are willing to accept. “You don’t have to just educate the technologist, but the society,” he added.

He also said that he had been part of a tongue-in-cheek debate a few years ago about who should run the health service, Tesco or the government. He explained that, while Tesco uses consumer data to improve the company, it only offered customers promotions that were right for them, so it was a “win-win" situation.

“The advantage of the grocery market is it is pretty safe, and everyone gets the deal,” he said. “If you manipulate the consumer too much, it could end up with backlash,” he said.

Read more on Healthcare and NHS IT