IT error caused sharing of 150,000 NHS patients’ data against their will

Written by Sam Trendall on 5 July 2018 in News
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Parliamentary statement reveals that problem with SystmOne application used by GPs meant individuals opt-out choices were not respected

A “coding error” in a software system used by GPs led NHS Digital to share the data of 150,000 patients against their will.

A written parliamentary statement from minister for mental health Jackie Doyle-Price reveals that the data was passed on as a result of a “defect” in the SystmOne clinical records system developed by UK IT company TPP and used by thousands of GPs across the country. The problem affected information concerning patients’ choice to opt out of having their confidential data shared for non-care-related purposes, such as research.

For more than three years up to June 2018, data on these opt-outs was not properly sent from SystmOne to NHS Digital. This failure, in turn, led to NHS Digital not upholding these opt-outs in its use of patient data.

“Since being informed of the error by TPP, NHS Digital acted swiftly and it has now been rectified,” said Doyle-Price. “NHS Digital made the Department of Health and Social Care aware of the error on 28 June. NHS Digital manages the contract for GP Systems of Choice on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care.”


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She added: “TPP has apologised unreservedly for its role in this matter and has committed to work with NHS Digital so that errors of this nature do not occur again. This will ensure that patients’ wishes on how their data is used are always respected and acted upon.”

Doyle-Price said that there “has never been, any risk to patient care as a result of this error”. Nonetheless, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the National Data Guardian for Health and Care have been informed. It is understood that the ICO is investigating the matter.

About 150,000 patients who registered an opt-out – known as a type 2 objection – have been affected by the error.

Nic Fox, director of primary and social care technology at NHS Digital, said that while “the problem has been resolved for any future data disseminations”, affected patients would be contacted presently.

“This issue would not be able to occur using the new national data opt-out, which has been recently introduced and puts the individual in direct control of their data-sharing preferences,” he added. “Data-sharing preferences can now be registered via a simple to use website or by phone or paper form, with the information going directly to NHS Digital, rather than being recorded by a GP on a third-party system.” 

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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