EU data protection reform threatens NHS record-sharing plans

Proposed changes to EU data protection law could obstruct NHS plans for seamless data integration across GP surgeries and hospitals

Proposed changes to European Union (EU) data-sharing legislation could obstruct the NHS' plans for seamless data integration across GP surgeries and hospitals.

Speaking at the launch of a new report on data sharing, Tim Kelsey, national director for patients and information at NHS England, said: "European legislation is very worrying, we cannot accept the legislative context being proposed."

Among the proposals set out by the European Commission (EC) is the citizen's right to be forgotten. Organisations holding personal data – including the NHS – will need explicit permission to process data.

Data shortcomings

The EMC-sponsored Sustaining Universal Healthcare in the UK report highlighted a number of inefficiencies in the NHS – such as the lack of electronic patient records – leading to doctors using incomplete patient information. The report said interoperability of patient records would allow records to be accessed and updated by authorised personnel at any point in the healthcare system.

 “When a patient moves to a new doctors surgery, their new GP would be able to access their complete patient record immediately, containing their medical history of previous and current conditions,” the report stated.

Sharing patient data across NHS organisations would improve analytics and support predictive analytics to support better treatment effectiveness through risk stratification, said the report.

"IT is not a saviour of NHS, it is an enabler," said James Norman, healthcare business development director at EMC. "We see waste from duplication of services.” 

Giving an example of the benefits of sharing data, Norman said: “Staff time not wasted on things can be automated. Because data doesn't flow between organisations.”

Data-sharing concerns

Sharing data through the NHS's programme is the foundation of Kelsey's vision of how to improve efficiency in the NHS and allow patients to manage their health. However, as Computer Weekly has previously reported, NHS England abandoned its plan to fully roll out the controversial patient records sharing scheme in the Autumn. The roll-out was scaled back to 500 GP practices before further decisions are made over future timescales.

Beyond the barriers of EU legislation, Kelsey said he was concerned by the lack of standardisation in NHS software. Some hospitals buy patient administration software that uses non-standard identifiers for patients and do not match the patient's NHS number – even though the NHS number is a requirement of the NHS's Standard Contract, which was updated in February 2014. Kelsey made the point that, without the NHS number, it is not possible for systems to share patient data.

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