Plans to allow the data of patients from GP surgeries in England to be shared with third parties has been delayed following privacy concerns.
The UK Government had planned to allow data to be shared from 1 July, but it has now been pushed back amid concerns.
Delayed until September
Health Minister Lord Bethell said the rollout of the scheme will be pushed back until 1 September to ensure it is “as effective as possible”.
The decision comes following calls for the data sharing to be paused to allow for a public consultation and information campaign to help alleviate fears from members of the public and medical professionals.
Speaking In Parliament, Lord Bethell told peers: “Data saves lives. We have seen that in the pandemic and it’s one of the lessons of the vaccine rollout.”
Lord Bethell said that the GP data programme “will strengthen the system and save lives”, but added that the government is taking some additional time to ensure it is effective, meaning the scheme will now be implemented later this year in September.
He added: “That’s why we are taking some time to make sure that it is as effective as possible so the implementation date will now be September 1.
“We will use this time to talk to patients, doctors and to others to strengthen the plan, to build a trusted research environment and to ensure the data is accessed securely.”
What data will be collected?
The scheme will collect information on patients’ treatments, referrals and appointments over the past 10 years, as well as other data from medical records held on GPs’ systems.
The collected data is coded by NHS Digital to protect patient identities.
The NHS has said the project is aimed at helping to plan and deliver its services more effectively and “ensure that care and treatment provided is safe and effective”.
However, the British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) have voiced concerns that the scheme was being implemented too fast, without sufficient patient consultation, and pressed for a delay.
Under the previous timetable, the BMA said patients only had until 23 June to decline having their coded health data given to NHS Digital.
Daily “extracts” of the coded data from practice systems to NHS Digital would then have begun from 1 July.
How to opt-out
Patients who do not want their data to be shared outside of their GP practice can register an opt-out.
NHS Digital will not collect any patient data for patients who have already registered an opt-out, but if this changes then patients will be informed.
Those who wish to opt-out of the data sharing can do so by filling out a form on the NHS digital website.