Public Services > Healthcare pilot in Somerset paused

Neil Merrett Published 04 September 2015

Four schemes halted after Jeremy Hunt asked English data guardian Dame Fiona Caldicott to advise on wording for a new model of patient consent and 'opt-outs'


NHS England has asked the four pathfinder pilot areas in Leeds, Blackburn with Darwen, West Hampshire and Somerset to temporarily pause their activities.

It follows a speech this week by Health secretary Jeremy Hunt in which he outlined his vision for the future use of technology across NHS.

The programme is a national initiative which hopes to eventually use anonymised patient data extracted from their GP and hospital medical records to improve the health of the nation.

In Somerset, 56 of the county's 75 GP practices have volunteered to participate in the pilot, which aimed to test patient understanding of the scheme, and their right to 'opt out' of the data extraction process if they wished.

NHS England had provisionally proposed that a mail out of information to patients registered with the 56 participating GP practices might have been possible towards the end of September 2015. This will not now go ahead.

The pilot schemes have been paused because Hunt has asked Dame Fiona Caldicott to advise on the wording for a new model of patient consent and 'opt-outs'. As the programme will wish to use this revised information, the pilot site testing cannot proceed until Dame Fiona's work is completed and the new consents agreed.

NHS England's National Director for Patients and Information Tim Kelsey said: "The new measures announced will strengthen the public's confidence in the security of their data.

"We recognise that patients have concerns about data safety and we will do everything we can to protect their information and build their trust. It is imperative we listen to the public and address all their concerns.

"Jeremy has stressed the importance of and we will continue to work with the pathfinder areas over the coming weeks and months."

A spokesperson for Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: "The purpose of the pathfinder pilot has always been to help NHS England with the testing and evaluation of patient literature and the process by which coded patient data might eventually be extracted from their GP medical records.

"Family doctors are as eager as patients to ensure that we get any process right and patients are provided with the necessary reassurance to know and understand that information from their medical records will continue to be kept safe, secure and confidential."

In his speech to the NHS Innovation Expo conference, Hunt announced a number of measures to assure the security of confidential medical information during his speech. These included a review of standards of data security for patients' confidential data across the NHS to be carried out by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Dr Neil Bhatia, a GP and data protection lead at Oaklands Practice in Hampshire, said he believed that both a lack of manpower and technical ability to process patient requests to opt-out of the programme had left the health secretary with little choice but to suspend current plans for

Dr Bhatia claimed there was a state of "profound confusion" at present regarding how patient data was being shared, as well as how patient requests to not have their confidential information utilised may affect other related programmes.

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