Hammersmith & Fulham Council Leader Urges NHS Data Opt Out

Fears that information could be sold to corporations

Stephan Cowan - Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council
Stephan Cowan - Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council

Residents are being urged to opt out of sharing their NHS data over fears it could be “on sale” to corporations worldwide.

Council leader Stephen Cowan told Hammersmith and Fulham’s 179,000 residents they have until 23 June to opt out of sharing their NHS data. However, since then the government have announced that it intends to delay implementation of the scheme.

He said, “If you haven’t heard about the government’s recent instruction to GPs to hand over all their patient data to NHS Digital, potentially for sale to corporations around the world, that’s not surprising.

“There has been no public awareness-raising campaign, prompting some doctors to refuse to comply with what they fear is a data-grab by stealth under the cover of the pandemic.”

He explained there were fears that “your medical data can potentially be sold to corporations for profit, including data you thought was disclosed in confidence to your GP”.

Labour councillor Cowan is a staunch critic of the Government and used his newsletter to the borough’s residents to share details of how to opt out of the scheme.

Patients can view or change their national data opt-out choice at any time by using the online service at www.nhs.uk/your-nhs-data-matters or by clicking on "Your Health" in the NHS App, and selecting "Choose if data from your health records is shared for research and planning".

Campaigners estimate that NHS data could be worth £10bn to private companies.

The Open Democracy campaign group is mounting a legal challenge to the data sharing scheme.

But Health Secretary Matt Hancock said patients should be reassured that the privacy and security of their data are “absolutely paramount”.

He said, “Ultimately, by making sure that we can understand what is happening, we can find better treatments, improve individuals’ treatment and save lives. This is all about making sure we use the best of modern technology to save lives and, in the process, improve the privacy and security of data.”

Councillor Cowan said, “This is not the first time this has been proposed. In 2013 the government tried to introduce a similar scheme but it was opposed on security and confidentiality grounds by the British Medical Association, privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch and the Association of Medical Research Charities so it was scrapped.”

Health campaigners HAFSON – Hammersmith and Fulham Save Our Hospitals are also telling patients how to opt out.

They said, “Even if you believe you have previously opted out of medical data- sharing, you need to ensure that you opt out yet again.”

Health Minister Jo Churchill told the Commons this Tuesdau 8 June the scheme will be delayed from July 1 until September 1.

It comes after NHS Digital warned that “intense damage” could be caused if patients’ and GPs’ concerns were not addressed.

The scheme will share more data such as patient ethnicity and gender, diagnoses, symptoms and test results

Julia Gregory - Local Democracy Reporter

June 9, 2021