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General Practice Data for Planning and Research

Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 13 July 2021

What progress he has made on consultations on the General Practice Data for Planning and Research roll-out. (902631)

We are committed to being transparent about the collection and use of data. We paused the implementation of GP data for planning and research services, and we have had productive discussions with the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Medical Association, health charities and others. We have listened to the concerns and we will respond to them. We will continue to listen and we will take our time. We will show patients and clinicians why they can have full trust and confidence in the programme, where data will only be accessed through a secure environment with the oversight of the Information Commissioner’s Office and the National Data Guardian.

The Government’s plan to give pharmaceutical firms access to pseudo-anonymised data from GP practices in England is creating public concern and distrust, just like the failed project of 2013. Most patients would be happy to see better communication and information sharing within the NHS, as well as for public health and academic research, but are concerned about commercial access to their data. Will the Minister halt the process to allow time for genuine debate and public consultation?

The hon. Member and I are both passionate about the use of data to enhance patient care, as she outlined. That is the prize here. We are listening. We are taking our time. The data will only be used for health and care planning and research purposes by organisations that have a legal basis and a legitimate need to use the data. NHS Digital will publish all the details of the data we have shared on our data release register. We want to build confidence. We want to build trust. We are listening, but this is an important agenda that we need to get right to deliver better care for patients.

The problem is that the plan to allow commercial access is going to undermine the public trust in improving digitisation within the NHS, and the Minister will be aware of that. The current plans apply only to the NHS in England, but can she guarantee that the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 will not be used to force commercial access to patient data from Scotland’s NHS? If so, can she explain why the Department for International Trade is advertising access to the health data of 65 million people, which is the population of the whole UK?

I go back to the answer I gave: we do not allow data to be used for commercial purposes. NHS Digital will not approve requests for data where the purpose is for marketing and so on and so forth. The hon. Member would not expect me to respond on behalf of another Department, but I reiterate that we are communicating and building trust. There will be a public information campaign. We will be working across the professions and across research to make sure that access is appropriate and proportionate. In the Health and Care Bill, we will be redoubling our efforts to make sure people have that confidence.

At the previous health questions, we secured a commitment from the Minister to delay the implementation date for this data grab in order to properly communicate with the public. However, rather than a significant delay so there could be the public information campaign the Minister says she is so keen to have, on the basis set out by the BMA and the Royal College of GPs, what we have instead is a short pause. The Minister says she wants to listen and to build trust, so why on earth is this being snuck out during the summer recess? The reality is that the Government simply have not passed the test for informed consent. Will the Minister take this moment today to stop this process and commit to a proper engagement campaign, rather than running off during recess?

I really respect the hon. Gentleman, but nothing is being snuck out. We are not doing a data grab. I refer him to the answer I gave a few moments ago. It is important that we get this right. We have heard the concerns and will respond to them. We will take the appropriate amount of time—even if that means going beyond 1 September—to ensure that we have engaged properly.