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Patient data watchdog attacks plans to use care records for research

By Steve Nowottny

The head of a new watchdog set up to oversee the security of patient data has warned Government proposals for use of care records in medical research may be ‘ethically unsound.'

The intervention, by Harry Cayton, chair of the National Information Governance Board for Health and Social Care, came as a Pulse survey found widespread disquiet among GPs at the plans.

Mr Cayton attacked plans outlined in the small print of the draft NHS constitution allowing researchers to trawl through care records to identify potential trial participants.

He told the Guardian: ‘There is pressure from researchers and from the Prime Minister to beef up UK research. They want a mechanism by which people's records could be accessed to invite them to take part in research. That would be a backward step.'

Connecting for Health is conducting a 12-week public consultation on how the NHS should use patient data for ‘secondary uses' such as 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.

But Pulse's of more than 300 GPs found just over half opposed the plans, while a third specifically shared the concerns of some religious groups over use of records in controversial areas of research such as on abortion.

Dr Peter Smith, a GP in Weston-super-Mare in North Somerset, said: ‘Patient records must remain the exclusive property of the patient and clinician.'

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