General practitioner England

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Patient trust threatened by data-sharing concerns

Concerns about patient data sharing need to be addressed or there will be a risk of irrevocable damage to the GP-patient relationship, the BMA told protection

BMA GPs committee chair Chaand Nagpaul warned that the scheme could ruin patients’ trust in their GPs unless action was taken to allay fears over the use of medical information.

Dr Nagpaul gave evidence to the Commons health select committee inquiry into the scheme yesterday.

Last week, it was announced implementation of the scheme would be delayed by six months due to concerns raised by the BMA, Royal College of GPs and other organisations.

Dr Nagpaul told MPs: ‘[Patients] trust us with very personal, sensitive, confidential information as part of a lifelong record in general practice. At the heart of our concern as GPs is that if patients mistrust, or are concerned about, the security of their data that will irrevocably damage that sense of trust when a patient walks into a GP’s surgery.’

He said there needed to be a fit-for-purpose public information campaign rather than the leaflet-led advertisements that were posted to patients in January.

GPs were custodians of a set of data that was far richer in detail than the information currently shared by secondary care, which was why data governance and public confidence in that governance was so important, Dr Nagpaul told the committee.

‘Impossible position’

He also highlighted how GPs had been placed in an ‘impossible position’, having to meet legal obligations on data sharing under two separate pieces of legislation. 

Under the Health and Social Care Act, practices have a statutory duty to share patient information with the Health and Social Care Information Centre. Yet according to the Data Protection Act they should only share such data if people understand how it will be used and their rights to object.

Dr Nagpaul said: ‘This is an important issue that is facing GPs and we would want to see some indemnity should they face a legal challenge [from a patient].’BMA GPs committee chair Chaand Nagpaul

Giving evidence later, NHS England national director for patients and information Tim Kelsey told the committee that he did not know if such indemnity was possible.

Mr Kelsey said he was working closely with the GPC to resolve GPs’ concerns over the scheme, improve public information and also ensure GPs were fully informed. He attended last week’s GPC meeting.

The committee also heard about the huge potential benefits of data sharing to healthcare. British Heart Foundation medical director Peter Weissberg warned: ‘There’s a real risk that if we get this wrong, the benefits go too.’

The BMA continues to support the sharing of anonymised patient data for NHS purposes.

 Watch the select committee hearing

The story so far