Pause in GP data sharing scheme must be used to ‘properly communicate’ with patients and clinicians

Responding to the announcement that NHS Digital’s GP Data for Planning and Research programme will be paused, following calls for this by the College, Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the following.

"We’re pleased that the Government has announced a delay to the GPDPR programme following the concerns that the College, the BMA and others have raised over the past few weeks.

"It is essential that this time is used to properly communicate with the public and with clinicians so that patients and GPs have trust in the programme. In principle, improved and more secure sharing of data for healthcare planning and research purposes is a good thing. We have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic just how important the appropriate use of GP patient data is in responding to a health crisis, but it is also important in normal times to plan for better overall service provision and public health strategies, and enhanced understanding of diseases and treatments for serious illness.

"We want to see a comprehensive campaign, led by NHS Digital and accessible to all members of the public, which should include every patient being communicated individually with, clearly articulating the benefits and risks of data sharing so that patients can make a genuinely informed decision about whether they are happy for their data to be shared - and if they are not, how they can opt out.

"The safety and confidentiality of data in general practice is paramount to GPs and our teams. 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."

Further information

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Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.