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NHS data-sharing ‘a no-brainer’, says health chief

The programme intends to link data from GP records with information from hospitals.

The programme intends to link data from GP records with information from hospitals.

Head of Medical Research Council defends scheme, which was delayed after doctors and patients raised concerns.

Data-sharing in the NHS would be seen as a “no brainer” by patients if the government explains the scheme properly, according to the head of the Medical Research Council.

Professor Sir John Savill defended the scheme insisting only “consent fetishists” could object to the plans.

The controversial project was pushed back until the autumn after patients, doctors and other professional organisations raised concerns that they had not been given enough time to learn about the project.

The programme intends to link data from GP records with information from hospitals to give an idea of what happens to patients at all stages of the NHS.

Sir John told the Times: “It could turn the UK into the best clinical laboratory in the world and the benefit would be felt first in the UK. This could change the game in health research and healthcare. The act of studying de-identified data in a safe haven without specific consent does not to my mind threaten confidentiality.

“Most people, once guarantees of doing our best to protect confidentially are explained, would say this is a no-brainer.”

He added that linking medical research studies with the scheme would further help the NHS meet the challenges of an ageing and more demanding society.

NHS England has said it would work with patients and professional groups to promote awareness of the initiative.

The data that will be extracted from GP systems includes information on family history, vaccinations, referrals for treatment, diagnoses and information about prescriptions.

It will also include biological values such as a patient’s blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol levels.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, plans to provide “rock-solid” assurance to patients that confidential information will not be sold for commercial insurance purposes.

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