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Legislation will prevent patient data being sold outside the health service, says Hunt

The Government will bring in legislation to protect any records obtained through NHS England’s scheme from being shared for the commercial gain of companies outside the health service, the health secretary has announced.

Under the amendments to the Care Bill going through Parliament, Jeremy Hunt said the Health and Social Care Information Centre will be prevented from sharing information obtained through where there isn’t a clear benefit to the health service and will introduce a requirement for applicants for data to demonstrate an ‘ethical basis’ for its use.

This announcement was in response to revelations last week that hospital data from every patient in England had been shared with an actuarial society.

It also follows the decision by NHS England to delay extractions from patient records, which were due to begin in March but will now take place in the autumn as a result of calls from the RCGP, BMA, patient rights groups and research organisations that patient had not fully understood the opt-out mechanism. 

The DH said: ‘Our proposed amendments to the Care Bill will need to be scrutinised by Parliament before coming into effect. We plan to table these amendments to be considered at the Bill’s Commons report stage, which will take place on March 10 and 11.’

‘We plan to bring forward the other legislative changes at the earliest opportunity.’

In its statement, the DH also quoted a ‘source close to the health secretary’, who said: ‘The principles around this programme, which will bring real benefits to patients, are fundamentally right, and we completely support them. But, alongside a new campaign from NHS England to explain the programme to the public and GPs, we also need to ensure that robust legislation is in place to address their concerns.’

Professor Nigel Mathers, honorary secretary of the RCGP, said the college was assured that patients’ data was being protected.

He said: ‘We are very grateful to the Government for listening to the concerns of GPs and for meeting the assurances sought by the RCGP in order to ensure that patients’ data is protected.’

‘ is a vitally important project that has the capacity to bring enormous health benefits to patients up and down the country.’

‘However it was critical the Government was able to give the assurances the profession has been seeking, as without them the whole enterprise was at risk of sinking without trace due a crisis of confidence among GPs and patients.’