pilot to start with 500 GP practices this autumn

By Sooraj Shah
24 Apr 2014 View Comments

Pilots for the NHS's controversial programme are to begin this autumn, with up to 500 GP practices trialling the initiative ahead of a national rollout.

The programme had to be postponed for six months after rising criticism from patients, doctors and privacy groups over plans to extract patient record information from GPs' surgeries to a centralised database, from where it would be sold to pharmaceutical companies, researchers and other organisations.

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NHS England claims that it is using this period to "listen and act on the views of patients, the public, GPs and stakeholders".

In a letter to stakeholders, Tim Kelsey, NHS England's director for patients and information, explained that one of NHS England's first steps was to establish an independent advisory group.

The group has since discussed the idea of a pilot with the NHS, the BMA, Healthwatch and the Royal College of General Practitioners for a phased rollout of the GP data extraction process to begin in the autumn.

"This will involve a cohort of between 100 and 500 GP practices to trial, test, evaluate and refine the collection process ahead of a national rollout," Kelsey said.

In addition, Kelsey stated that steps have been taken "in making changes to the law".

He claims that this will "increase the protection of confidentiality and ensure there is greater transparency around the release of data by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC)".

"Over the coming months, the HSCIC will work to provide assurances over the safety of data collected, stored and shared, including the option of accessing data from a controlled environment, sometimes referred to as a ‘data-lab' or ‘fume-cupboard', for use by organisations requesting data," he added.

In March, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) claimed that anonymous data was not covered under the Data Protection Act, meaning that if anonymous patient record data were to be leaked or misused, it would not consider it against the law - if anyone found out about it.

Earlier this month, Computing revealed that the programme had cost £1.3m to date - but this did not include costs associated with staff time or any technology purchases.

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