The controversial planned mass extraction of patient data from GP records will be delayed from July to September, the Government has announced.
Patients will also be given a longer window to opt out of the extraction, than the previously planned 23 June deadline.
The General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR), which will replace the GP Extraction Service (GPES), had been due to launch on 1 July.
But Pulse revealed last month that privacy campaigners fear the new automatic extractions of data will be ‘far bigger’ and ‘more intrusive’ than the scrapped care.data project.
Health minister Jo Churchill today told the House of Commons that the Government has ‘decided we will proceed with the important programme, but we will take some extra time, as we have conversed with stakeholders in the past couple of days’.
She said that this comes as ‘patient data is of course owned by the patient’ and the Government is ‘absolutely determined to take people with us on this journey’.
She said: ‘The implementation date will now be on 1 September and we will use this time to talk to patients, doctors, health charities and others to strengthen the plan, build a trusted research environment and ensure data is accessed securely.’
But she said: ‘Data saves lives. It’s as simple as that. We’ve seen that in the pandemic, it’s one of the lessons of the vaccine rollout. The GP data programme will strengthen this system and save lives.’
Later in the session, health secretary Matt Hancock also confirmed that patients would be given longer to opt out of the data extraction.
He said: ‘The minister set out that we will delay the deadline on this programme, including the opt-out which is currently scheduled to end on the 23 June.’
He added: ‘I think everybody agrees that data saves lives. We have to make progress in this area, it is very, very important, but we have to do it in a way that brings people with us.’
NHS Digital chair Simon Bolton added that it takes its ‘responsibility to safeguard the data we hold incredibly seriously’.
‘We intend to use the next two months to speak with patients, doctors, health charities and others to strengthen the plan even further,’ he added.
The BMA last week called for a delay to the launch of the programme, on which it has been advising the Government.
BMA GP committee executive team member and IT lead Dr Farah Jameel said today that many GPs ‘feel that all their patients may not yet know what’s changing’ while ‘many practices do not believe that they themselves have been given the right level of information nor adequate time to comprehensively understand the programme, its merits and the safeguards it will operate within’.
‘It’s clear that previous communications from NHS Digital on this programme has, frankly, been either inadequate or non-existent.’
She added that while ‘the BMA understands that data sharing plays a key role in planning and research as well as developing treatments, we also know that the crux of the GP-patient relationship relies on trust, transparency and honesty, and therefore allowing the public to make fully informed decisions is paramount.’
‘What’s important now is that the Government takes full responsibility for ensuring that there is honest dialogue and robust public engagement.’
And she stressed that GPs ‘were never, and should not be, expected to take responsibility for communicating the details of this programme to patients’.
‘[W]e would expect to see the Government use this extension to adequately communicate the programme details to doctors and the public. Patients across England must be afforded the ability to make an informed choice in this matter, with decisions based on the correct facts and information.’
The RCGP, which has also advised the Government, had also raised concerns about patients being insufficiently informed of the programme.
It today welcomed the announcement via Twitter.
The Labour Party also joined calls for a delay to the rollout this weekend.
Shadow minister for public health and primary care Alex Norris said today: ‘This is a welcome decision, but it was only achieved after overwhelming pressure from patients, and health professionals alike.
‘This must now mean that all elements, including the opt-out, are delayed and there must be a full public consultation about this issue before the data collection is resumed. Labour will continue to raise this with Ministers to ensure this is the case.’