Tuesday 8 June 2021 8:15 pm

NHS delays patient data-sharing scheme amid privacy backlash

The NHS has delayed plans to create a central database to pool data belonging to millions of patients following a backlash over privacy concerns.

NHS Digital confirmed it will go ahead with the project, which will collect information on conditions and medications, as well as other data from GP records, and make them available to third parties.

But the system will now go live on 1 September — two months later than the original launch date.

It comes after the plans were met with criticism from privacy campaigners, who have raised concerns about a lack of transparency and a failure to communicate the new system with patients.

“We are absolutely determined to take people with us on this mission. We take our responsibility to safeguard the data we hold incredibly seriously,” said Simon Bolton, chief executive of NHS Digital.

“We intend to use the next two months to speak with patients, doctors, health charities and others to strengthen the plan even further.”

Lord Bethell, junior health minister in the House of Lords, today said the delay was to ensure the project was “as effective as possible”.

The British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs are among the bodies to raise concerns about the controversial project.

In a joint letter they urged NHS Digital to “take immediate action to run a public information campaign”.

NHS Digital said entire GP records would not be collected, and any information saved would be pseudonymised to protect patients’ identities.

It added that data can only be collected by approved organisations using it for healthcare planning and research purposes, and they would only get the specific data required.

Patients will be able to opt out of the system. NHS Digital had originally set a deadline for opting out of 23 June, but this was dropped after campaigners threatened legal action.