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You have until June 23 to stop the NHS sharing your medical records with outside third parties


If you don’t opt out, your records will be ‘permanently’ included in the records (Picture: NHS)

If you live in England, you have until June 23 to opt out of your data being included in a ‘digital scrape’ by the NHS, which it will share with third parties.

Privacy campaigners have harshly criticised the plans of NHS Digital, which will see the medical histories of more than 55 million patients ported into a database, including mental and sexual health data, criminal records and more sensitive information.

The records will be scraped from every patient in England registered to a GP clinic by NHS Digital, which runs the country’s healthcare IT systems.

The data will reportedly be available to both academic and commercial third parties for research and planning purposes. Though NHS Digital publishes a monthly list of who it shares its data with, campaigners have said it will be difficult to find out who ultimately sees the data, due to the NHS’ ‘opaque’ commercial relationships.

While the data will supposedly be anonymised, the NHS will hold secret ‘codes’ to unlock the identity of the data’s owners if there is a ‘valid legal reason’. Privacy campaigners have said the overall plans are ‘legally problematic’ and that not enough time has been given to patients to opt out of the plan.

Digital rights campaign group Foxglove has issued a letter to the Department of Health and Social Care which questions the legality of the move.

‘Very few members of the public will be aware that the new processing is imminent, directly affecting their personal medical data,’ wrote solicitor Rosa Curling in the letter.

If patients fail to opt out by June 23, which can only be done by filling out a form and taking it to your GP, their medical records will become a permanent feature of the NHS Digital data set. If you miss the deadline, and opt out after the deadline, you can only stop future data from being included in the system.

An ambulance crew from the South Central Ambulance Service wear protective clothing as they complete the digital paperwork after responding to a false alarm call for a heart attack (Getty)

The plan was first announced by health secretary Matt Hancock at the beginning of April, through a series of blog posts on the NHS Digital website and flyers at GP surgeries, but critics have said the publicity hasn’t been sufficient.

Advocacy group MedConfidential, who has sought to raise the alarm about the impending deadline, told the FT: ‘They’re trying to sneak it out, they are giving you six weeks nominally and if you do not act based on web pages on the NHS digital site and some YouTube videos and a few tweets, your entire GP history could have been scraped, never to be deleted.’

It’s not the first time the NHS has attempted to put GP records in a central database – in 2013, the Care.data programme looked to scrape patient records for better centralisation, but the plan was ultimately abandoned in 2016 after confidentiality complaints.

The UK’s data regulator is reportedly producing a ‘data protection’ impact assessment about the current plans.


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