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Informing public of impending patient data extraction ‘must not be left to busy GPs’, RCGP warns


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The job of informing the public about the impending mass extraction of patient data ‘must not be left to busy GPs’ while they are in the midst of ‘extreme workload pressure’ and focusing on the Covid pandemic, the RCGP as said.

The statement comes as Pulse revealed last month that privacy campaigners fear the new automatic extractions of data will be ‘far bigger’ and ‘more intrusive’ than care.data.

Although patients have only until 23 June to opt out, there has been no public information campaign about the project, unlike the scrapped care.data plans that saw every household in England receive a leaflet about the upcoming changes in 2014.

Instead, the onus for informing patients about the General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) extraction – planned for 1 July – has been placed on GP practices, which have to update their website privacy statements but have also been encouraged by NHS Digital to include information on social media, newsletters and other communications.

However in a statement today (1 June), RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘The job of informing the public must not be left to busy GPs, especially at a time of extreme workload pressures and focus on the Covid-19 vaccination programme, so we have written to NHS Digital urging them to undertake greater communications with the public about this new collection and their options for opting out.’

The statement comes as the BMA and RCGP have both worked with NHS Digital to develop GPDPR, which will replace the GP Extraction Service (GPES).

Professor Marshall added: ‘The college supports the principle of improved sharing of data for important healthcare planning and research, but it is critical that this is transparent and that patients have confidence and trust in how the NHS and other bodies might use their information.’

The news comes as GPs in some parts of England have been urged not to allow the NHS Digital data extraction, even though this is technically against the law.

This includes GPs in Tower Hamlets, East London, which were urged to do so in an email sent by Tower Hamlets LMC chair Dr Jackie Applebee and NHS North East London CCG chief clinical information officer Dr Osman Bhatti yesterday.

Dr Applebee told Pulse: ‘We are saying to practices, don’t enable it until you’re absolutely certain that you have properly consulted and informed your patients adequately of what this means for them.

‘General practice is absolutely drowning at the moment. We’ve got so much to do, and this is not a priority either. To inform patients adequately and give them all a chance to opt out is a huge undertaking, and it shouldn’t be left to general practice.’

NHS Digital previously said the collected data will be used ‘for better planning of healthcare services and for use in medical research’ and that the new system will be ‘more efficient’ at doing this than the GPES.

An NHS Digital spokesperson said: ‘Patient data is already used every day to plan and improve healthcare services, for research that results in better treatments, and to save lives. 

‘We have engaged with doctors, patients, data, privacy and ethics experts to design and build a better system for collecting this data. We have worked with our partners in the GP profession throughout as we developed this improved data collection and will continue to do so.’

In February, health secretary Matt Hancock ordered a review into how patient data could be shared outside the NHS for research purposes after the pandemic ‘while preserving patient privacy’.

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Patrufini Duffy 2 June, 2021 2:18 pm

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