Matt Hancock has quietly told your GP to hand over your health data. Why?
If you live in England, all your encounters with your GP – information about your physical, mental and sexual health – could be ‘sold’ to third parties.
From 1 July this year, if you’re registered with a GP in England, the government will be taking a copy of every medical event your GP recorded on their systems since you first registered with them. (Your childrens’ records too if you have children).
According to the NHS website, the events – called ‘codes’ – it will collect include “Data about diagnoses, symptoms, observations, test results, medications, allergies, immunisations, referrals, recalls and appointments, including information about physical, mental and sexual health”.
Every single one of these events will be linked to your NHS number, your full postcode and your date of birth. Does that sound like “anonymous” data to you? (The ‘pseudonyms’ that will be used to obscure those bits of information are readily reversible, and the body running the database freely admits it has the ability to do so).
All your encounters with your GP, once copied to the central database, will be “disseminated” for payment to third parties, including companies outside the NHS. (In case you find that hard to believe, here’s this year’s price list for the data already held centrally, such as that of your hospital visits).
Did you have any idea your medical data was worth so much… or so little? Once it has been taken, your GP data – much more sensitive than data about hospital visits – will never be deleted.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing any of this, because the government is making little effort to tell you. Indeed, NHS Digital, the central NHS body that health secretary Matt Hancock last month ordered to extract all of this health data, appears not to have sent out a press release, announcing the programme via a news item on its own website on 12 May.
You might, at this point, be getting a sense of deja vu. The last time the government tried to get its hands on our GP data, through the notorious ‘care.data’ programme announced in 2013, there was an outcry from patients and professionals. The scheme collapsed, with the government unable – or unwilling – to convincingly reassure people about who exactly would end up having access to our GP records.
Save your anger at NHS Digital. It’s more scapegoat than instigator; as a statutory body it can, and must, do with data what Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson tell it to do. Hancock directed NHS Digital to do this and not tell you.