Government plans to store the medical history data of every patient in England have been questioned by both its own watchdog for privacy, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), and the British Medical Association (BMA). Leading doctors have also pitched in, saying that NHS patients have been “inadequately informed” about the proposed sharing of their medical data.

The comments come as surveys show that almost fourty-five percent of the public are either unaware of the scheme or do not understand it, despite the fact that the government has sent details to all 22 million households in England.

Out of interest, has anyone received one of these leaflets yet because I do not personally know a single household that has, including mine?

Its not just the public who are unsure of how the plans will unfold either – The Independent reports that 80% of GPs are unclear on how medical data will be used too.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the ICO has accused the NHS of failing to explain the scheme in the clear manner they promised whilst the BMA have concerns that patients have been kept in the dark over their option to opt-out of what they describe as a “Big Brother database,” calling for a halt to the scheme until such time as the public are better informed.

As I write this article I’ve just noticed that the Telegraph are reporting that the database scheme has indeed been halted for a period of six months to allow the pros and cons to be better communicated. The various concerned parties have called for national TV and radio campaigns to get the message across.

So, it seems that patients will now have until September to decide whether they want their records to be shared or not with Tim Kelsey, the national director for patients and information at NHS England saying,

“NHS England exists for patients and we are determined to listen to what they tell us. We have been told very clearly that patients need more time to learn about the benefits of sharing information and their right to object to their information being shared. That is why we are extending the public awareness campaign by an extra six months.”

Professor Nigel Mathers, Honorary Secretary of the RCGP, said:

“We would like to thank NHS England for listening to the concerns of RCGP members and for acting so quickly to announce this pause. The extra time will provide it with the chance to redouble its efforts to inform every patient of their right to opt out, every GP of how the programme will work, and the nation of what robust safeguards will be in place to protect the security of people’s data.”

Anna Bradley, Chair of Healthwatch England welcomed the move which, she said, would “ensure the public are better informed” and in a position to “make an informed decision.”

The delay in implementing the new NHS database will be seen as a huge blow by some in the health industry, coming soon after SC Magazine reported that “the NHS’ own risk analysis showed that the database will be vulnerable to hackers and the insider threat” as well as the fact that “it was also revealed that the opt-out clause could break the forthcoming new EU-wide data privacy law which may insist people must actively ‘opt-in’ before their personal data can be used.”

On Tuesday former home secretary David Davis MP described the new database as “a honeypot for hackers” though, being a cynic, I would probably be more concerned about the data ending up in the hands of medical and insurance companies.

I’m glad that the scheme has been temporarily shelved and think its good to see the ICO and others getting a good result on behalf of the public for once.

If you have your own concerns about the database then TheBigOptOut.org gives some advice on how you too can opt-out from what I believe is a poorly executed shambles from the NHS.

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