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Exclusive: Drug firms try to get hands on patient data

By Steve Nowottny

Pharmaceutical companies are directly approaching NHS staff to try and illicitly gain access to confidential patient records, Pulse can reveal.

A south coast hospital trust has admitted its employees have been repeatedly approached and asked to transfer patient-identifiable data into pharmaceutical company databases.

The admission comes as Connecting for Health bosses last week unveiled plans for a massive expansion in use of patient records for research purposes.

Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, initially told Pulse that in August 2007 an unnamed pharmaceutical company had been ‘given access to the hospital database'.

A spokesperson later insisted that no patient data had actually been handed over. But the spokesperson confirmed two staff members had been approached by a pharmaceutical company while at a conference in London, given access to a website and asked to upload patient-identifiable data.

She refused to name the company involved for ‘confidentiality' reasons.

The trust said: ‘For some time the trust has been concerned about the lengths to which pharmaceutical companies, or companies working on their behalf, will go to seemingly bypass the research governance route and encourage staff to release person-identifiable data onto third-party databases.

‘A number of attempts have been thwarted by the trust.'

The trust's warning came as Connecting for Health launched a public consultation on whether researchers should be given wider access to patient records for a range of ‘secondary' uses – including medical research, disease surveillance, screening and needs assessment.

Under the proposals, researchers who apply to the NHS Research Ethics Committee could be granted access to pseudonymised and in some cases patient-identifiable data, as well as anonymised records.

Patients who had given implied consent for a Summary Care Record to be created for them would not be asked for further consent before their data was shared.

Dr Mark Davies, a GP in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, and the Information Centre's newly appointed medical director, said: ‘This is the start of a mature debate between the NHS and patients on how we use information to improve care.'

But Dr Neil Bhatia, a GP in Yateley in Hampshire, said: ‘If patients cannot opt out, then all the more reason for them to prevent the information being supplied in the first place.'

IT scare: companies have been trying to get hold of patient data IT scare: companies have been trying to get hold of patient data

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