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BMA calls for delay to controversial Government patient data programme

by Awil Mohamoud
7 June 2021

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The BMA has called for a delay to the Government’s new patient data-sharing programme amid concerns around the timescale involved in patients opting out.

Patients have until 23 June to opt out of the General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) programme, but the BMA says it feels this timeline is ‘too short’ and that NHS Digital has not ‘transparently and actively engaged the public in increasing awareness’.

It added that ‘rushing’ the programme out would undermine public confidence.

Management in Practice’s sister title Pulse revealed last month that privacy campaigners fear the new automatic extractions of data will be ‘far bigger’ and ‘more intrusive’ than the scrapped project.

Last week, the BMA and RCGP wrote to NHS Digital urging for improved communication with the public about the data extraction programme.

BMA GP committee executive team member and IT lead Dr Farah Jameel said communication from NHS Digital to the public has been ‘completely inadequate’, adding it has caused ‘confusion for patients and GPs alike’.

She said: ‘Family doctors have a duty to their patients, and have their best interest at heart – so are understandably hesitant to comply with something that patients may know nothing about and that they themselves do not fully understand, even if this is a legal requirement.’

Dr Jameel said that with less than four weeks until the extraction date, ‘it’s clear that the timeline needs a hard reset’, adding this should only happen when the public are able to make a ‘fully informed decision’ about what happens with their data and how to opt-out if that is what they want to do.. 

She said ‘unclear messaging’ and a ‘failure’ to develop a far-reaching public engagement plan has resulted in a ‘completely unrealistic’ expectation that GPs are left to communicate the complex changes to patients and warned rushing it through could risk people losing confidence in GPs.

This comes as doctors, including GPs, have threatened a legal challenge against the Government unless it reverses its ‘unlawful’ plan to carry out the ‘largest seizure of GP data in NHS history’

Earlier this week, the RCGP warned that the job of informing the public about the impending mass extraction of patient data ‘must not be left to busy GPs’ while they are in the midst of ‘extreme workload pressure’ and focusing on the Covid pandemic.

GPs in some parts of England, including East London, have also been urged not to allow the NHS Digital data extraction, even though this is technically against the law.

This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.