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NHS Digital replaces system for collection of GP data

New system designed ‘with interests of patients at its heart’ will provide near-real-time primary care data to support improvements in healthcare and help research

NHS Digital has announced the launch of a new platform to collect data from general practitioners (GPs) to meet new requests stemming from healthcare and researchers posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) service aims to improve primary care data collection and make it available to stakeholders ranging from clinicians to academics and commissioners.

A Data Provision Notice has been issued today (12 May) to GPs to enable the new platform, and the new process will be introduced on 1 July 2021. GPDPR replaces the General Practice Extraction Service (GPES), which had been in place for over a decade and has been slammed as a “disaster” after years of delays, failure around testing and costs spiraling out of control.

NHS Digital is legally collecting and analysing healthcare information about patients, including from GP records, for the duration of the coronavirus emergency. Through GPDPR, which is said to adhere to “the most rigorous privacy and security standards” to meet the privacy expectations of patients, near-real-time data from GP practices will be collected and provided to the various stakeholders.

There has been a significant increase in demand for primary care data since the emergence of Covid-19. GPDPR is intended to help run and improve health and care services by, for example, identifying those most vulnerable to coronavirus and rolling out vaccines. According to NHS Digital, data will remain a “critical asset” in planning services and to support research into conditions such as long Covid.

“The power and utility of health data was clearly demonstrated during the pandemic, when it supported NHS organisations and researchers to roll out vaccines, identify those most at risk from Covid-19 and investigate disease pathology, among other things,” said Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive of NHS Digital, who will be stepping down this summer.

Wilkinson said GP data is “particularly rich and valuable”, given that many illnesses are treated predominantly in primary care. “We want to ensure that this data is made available for use in planning NHS services and in clinical research, but it is critical that we do this in such a way that patient confidentiality and trust is prioritised and never compromised,” she added.   

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Data going through GPDPR that directly identifies patients will be pseudonymised and then encrypted before it leaves a GP practice, said NHS Digital, adding that data sharing will only occur with organisations that have a legal basis and meet strict criteria for using it.

According to NHS Digital, the development of the system has involved consultations with various patient and privacy groups, clinicians, associations and technology experts. It said patients will be able to opt out of having their data shared outside the GP practice at any time by expressing their preference to the practice where they are registered.

“We seek to be as transparent as possible in how we manage this data, so that the quality of our services are constantly subject to external scrutiny,” said Wilkinson.

NHS Digital’s Caldicott Guardian, Arjun Dhillon, said the dataset was designed with “the interests of patients at its heart”.

He added: “By reducing the burden of data collection from general practice together with simpler data flows, increased security and greater transparency, I am confident that the new system will protect the confidentiality of patients’ information and make sure that it is used properly for the benefit of the heath and care of all.”

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