Letter: The public shouldn’t be concerned about NHS data sharing

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I disagree with your editorial “Plans to Share NHS Data Need to Be Reconsidered” (FT View, May 28).

Patient data save lives. They were vital during Covid-19 to make sure the hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. Identify and protect those most at risk and introduce the vaccine program for all patient populations.

Quick access to patient records provided by NHS Digital was key to the Oxford University study, which found that treatment with dexamethasone reduced deaths by a third.

By April 2021, the drug had saved 22,000 lives in the UK and 1 million more worldwide.

Because of this, the majority of the public supports the use of patient data for the benefit of the NHS and to improve treatment. They also expect this data to be secure and used in a way that respects privacy.

We understand that. That’s why NHS Digital has developed a new system to manage the data that is already being collected and used on a daily basis. The new family doctor data for planning and research system provides more security and more comprehensive oversight to ensure that data is only accessible for health research and care planning.

Only the minimum data required for each project is passed on and this data goes through a process so that no one can be identified by this data.

We don’t share names, addresses, or NHS numbers. We do not sell data and will never provide data for insurance, marketing or advertising purposes – or for purposes other than health research and planning.

We publish a list of the organizations that use our data and they are scrutinized to ensure that it is being used for the purpose requested. All applications for access to family doctor data are examined by two independent bodies, which also include representatives of family doctors.

We have worked with patient groups, general practitioners, NHS officers, researchers, the National Data Guardian, and other organizations. We have listened to their advice to ensure our system meets the needs of patients, clinicians and researchers.

While we hope people want their data to aid life-saving medical research and clinical planning for their NHS services, everyone has the right to opt-out at any time.

Dr. Arjun Dhillon
Clinical Director and Caldicott Guardian, NHS Digital, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK



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