In England, ministers’ plans to suck up GP records need to be scrapped and restarted with a proper debate about their use and privacy implications
The government wants to extract the general practice history of every patient in England by 1 July. Haven’t you heard? Ministers are not exactly shouting about this momentous news. NHS Digital, the body proposing the new scheme, has described it as a way to “improve” the collection of patient information that would allow better planning of healthcare services and use of data in medical research. But there are charging guidelines for the use of this data. One might reasonably conclude that the most sensitive medical details of the entire adult English population are being collected and some portion may be provided at “costs” agreed with third parties.
The records being stored contain the most private details of a person’s life. The proposals suggest mass collection of every English patient’s history, including mental health episodes, their smoking and drinking habits, and diagnoses of diseases such as cancer. But it will also include dated instances of domestic violence, abortions, sexual histories and criminal offences. Given the proposed scope of such a database, it is reasonable to ask who will be given this data, and for what purpose.