GP data programme postponed

PLANS to make GP practices in England share patient data for a government database have been pushed back by two months following concerns raised by healthcare leaders.

The proposed General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) programme was due to begin on July 1 but this has now been delayed until September 1.

NHS Digital, who are in charge of the data collection, said the postponement was “to provide more time to speak with patients, doctors, health charities and others”.

GPDPR will see key patient data held by GPs in England added to a "pseudonymised" database. The data store is intended to be used for healthcare planning and research purposes, and it may be shared with third parties such as research institutes and pharmaceutical companies where there is a legal basis to do so.

The delay has been welcomed by the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) and the British Medical Association (BMA), who had raised concerns about a lack of public awareness.

The UK’s national data guardian for health and social care, Nicola Byrne, had also called for more dialogue. In a recent statement, she said: "As the recently established 8th Caldicott Principle makes clear, it is important that there are no surprises for the public about how confidential information about them is used."

In a joint open letter to NHS Digital director Richard Alcock in May, the RCGP and BMA said that they were supportive of the principles of the new programme in promoting appropriate data sharing and centralising oversight. But they expressed concerns that patients had so far not been "sufficiently" informed and called on NHS Digital to "take immediate action to run a public information campaign".

Responding to the decision to defer the data collection, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall urged NHS Digital to use the time to "properly communicate with the public and with clinicians so that patients and GPs have trust in the programme".

He said: "Surveys show that most patients are happy for their data to be used for legitimate planning and research purposes, but this must be built around trust.

"What data will be shared, with which organisations, how and why this will be done - and in particular, what safeguards that are in place to ensure data is not used inappropriately - must be communicated effectively with patients and healthcare professionals, so that they have trust in the programme."

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