Every household in England is to receive a leaflet informing them of care.data - a ground-breaking new NHS information collection programme due to 'go live' early next year.
The £1 million move, announced by NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) this morning, forms part of an awareness campaign after concerns were raised that the public was largely being left in the dark over the scheme.
Throughout January, all 22 million households in England will receive information on how the new system will work, after which they will have just weeks to opt out before their medical details - including family history, diagnoses, biological values and prescriptions - are transferred to the HSCIC.
The programme will see, for the first time, information from different NHS providers linked together in order to provide timely and accurate information to patients, clinicians and commissioners about the NHS treatments and care.
The overriding aim is improve the use of medical information to boost the quality of patient care, by supporting patient choice, promoting transparency, improving outcomes, increasing accountability and also helping to secure England's attraction as a location for health research.
“Using patients’ data for cancer research can saves lives," noted Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician. "Analysing NHS records will help us to understand the causes of cancer, including how to prevent the disease, how we can get people diagnosed and treated faster, and what happens to people who take part in our clinical trials".
Also commenting on the programme, NHS Confederation chief operating officer Matt Tee said: "It's difficult to overstate the importance of information and data for delivering safe, high quality care to patients, and for helping staff to improve care on a daily basis. The right data at the right time - in the right hands - really can save lives".
"For the NHS to work properly, it is essential clinicians and services can share data when and where necessary, and so we are clear that care.data has the potential to add significant value to the NHS and its work," he added.
There is still widespread concern over patient privacy and inappropriate use of such information, but Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s Director of Patients and Information, stressed that "the system is designed to be extremely secure, with a suite of safeguards to protect confidentiality," and that, once collected and linked, "the information is made available in a form that is stripped of information that could identify patients".