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The NHS has put off plans to share NHS medical information from every GP patient in England.

Jo Churchill, the minister of health and social services, announced this week that patient data sharing program will now be rolled out on 1 September rather than 1 July.

Patients were previously limited to opting-out until June 23rd by presenting a completed form to their doctors. Patients will now be given until 25 August to opt-out, by contacting their GP practice.

Churchill stated that Churchill would use the extra time to “talk to doctors and patients to strengthen the plan.”

British Medical Association (BMA), praised the development as “an important win” for patients, family doctors, and the BMA.

Privacy campaigners however argue that it is important to increase public awareness of the plans and allow people to choose to opt-out.

Phil Booth, privacy group medconfidential, stated, “Nothing meant that patients would definitely have more info after the delay over this summer.”

WHY IT MATTERS

Campaigners, BMA (British Medical Association) and Royal College of GPs(RCGP), among others, have expressed concern at the insufficient publicity surrounding the plans. Doctors will not be able to inform patients.

There are also worries about sensitive information in GP records being shared. This could include criminal records, mental or sexual health, and domestic abuse cases.

NHS Digital says the current system for collecting patient data is more than 10 years old and needs replacing.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

Prior plans by the NHS to keep GP records in a centralised database under the Data programme were abandoned after protests by campaigners.

RECORD

Simon Bolton, the new CEO of NHS Digital, stated that data saves lives and has great potential to improve care and outcomes. This was evident in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vaccine rollout could not have been delivered without effective use of data to ensure it reached the whole population. We are determined and eager to include people in this mission. We take our responsibility to secure the data we hold very seriously.

BMA GP Committee member Dr Farah Jamel, IT lead, said that “We know from our patients that many family physicians feel that not all their patients know what’s happening.” She also stated that many practices don’t believe they have received the correct level of information or enough time to fully understand the program, its merits, and the safeguards it will be operating within. It is clear that previous communications by NHS Digital regarding this program have been inadequate or nonexistent.

Cori Crider from Foxglove said, “We and our partner are happy that the government has finally seen the light. Now it needs to properly involve people and answer key questions. Every single patient in England should be fully informed about what happens to their data.

This story was last updated on 16 June 2021. __S.25__

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