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Big data = big deal

According to a recent article in Pulse, it’s only a matter of weeks before patient data will start flowing from GP practices to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) as part of which will allow information to be linked across all areas of healthcare.

Big deal, you might think, let’s just carry on seeing patients.  Actually it is a big deal, and for a number of reasons.

Perhaps the most important is that the data that will be extracted from patients’ medical records will be identifiable and not only will it be used within the NHS, it could be sold to private organisations who are willing to pay for it.

Another important reason is that in the eyes of the Information Commissioners Office we as GPs are considered to be ‘Data Controllers’ under the Data Protection Act. Therefore, if we haven’t taken adequate steps to inform our patients their confidential information is being shared (so they can exercise their right to say no) they can complain and it will be our necks on the block.  Oh – and apparently putting up a few posters in the waiting room and adding something to the practice web site isn’t considered adequate.

Which is why, after a lot of complaining by GPs and patients, NHS England and the HSCIC has decided to spend £2m on a publicity campaign which will include a leaflet drop to all 22m households in England.

Hooray, you might shout, common sense prevails and we don’t have to send letters to every patient informing them about any more.

No, all we have to do is wait for the deluge of questions about it.  Not that any of us have the answers to give.  I just hope the leaflet doesn’t contain the phrase: ‘if you’re worried about your data being shared, see your GP’.

Be warned, the floodgates are about to open.

Dr Hadrian Moss is a GP in Kettering, Northamptonshire. You can tweet him at @DrHMoss.