GP data collection: ‘Only required information will be accessed’, minister pledges

Written by Sam Trendall on 23 June 2021 in News

Nadine Dorries claims that mass information-gathering has been ‘proactively promoted’ 

Credit: Chokniti Khongchum from Pixabay 

The incoming programme for NHS Digital to collect swathes of patient data from GP practices will not permit access to any information beyond that which is “required to meet a legally permitted use”, a minister has pledged.

Patient safety minister Nadine Dorries said that the information gathered by NHS Digital via the General Practice Data for Planning and Research Programme (GPDPR) will be available – subject to an access request – to all NHS entities. This might include “a clinical commissioning group, or a national arm’s length body or research organisation”, she said. All requests for data access will be “scrutinised by NHS Digital against stringent criteria, then two independent panels which include GP representatives”.

“Only the information that is required to meet a legally permitted use will be accessed,” the minister added, in response to a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Mary Glindon. “The data will only be used for health and care planning and research purposes by organisations that have a legal basis and legitimate need to use the data.”

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The GPDPR scheme will see NHS Digital make daily collections of patient data from GP surgeries across England. Information gathered will include data on diagnoses, symptoms, observations, test results, medications, allergies, immunisations, referrals, recalls and appointments related to patients’ physical, mental and sexual health, as well as data on sex, ethnicity and sexual orientation, and information on about staff who have treated patients.

Data will be pseudonymised and will not include will not include names or addresses – with the exception of postcode information, which NHS Digital claims it will collect “in a unique coded form”.

Collection was scheduled to begin on 1 July, but this has been pushed back by two months. The postponement came in the light of criticism over what many – including the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners – saw as a lack of transparency and adequate communications with patients.

But, answering another written question from fellow Conservative Julian Sturdy, Dorries said that: “NHS Digital proactively promoted this new data collection through their website, engagement with media, stakeholder and patient groups and social media channels.”

“They sought to raise awareness of the collection and its importance to the health and care system, but also to provide patients with a choice if they do not want their data to be used in this way by registering a data-opt-out.”

The minister added that, between now and the new data-collection start date, promotional activities will continue.

“Patient-facing materials have been developed by NHS Digital for general practitioners to use,” Dorries said. "NHS Digital intends to use the next two months to continue to enhance communications and further raise awareness with the public about the new collection and its benefits.”


About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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