The government has announced a two-month delay to its planned GP data extraction programme, originally planned for early July.
Announcing the delay in the House of Commons, health minister Jo Churchill said roll out of the new system, the General Practice Data for Planning and Research, has been pushed back to September, essentially to allow for patients and doctors to become better informed about the database.
BMA GP committee executive team member and IT lead Dr Farah Jameel described the delay as a win for patients, family doctors and the British Medical Association (BMA).
“Along with the RCGP, we made it abundantly clear to both the government and NHS Digital that this programme needed to be delayed to allow for a proper in-depth public information campaign to give the public a chance to make an informed decision about whether they want their data collected as part of the new GP data extraction programme.
“We knew there was insufficient time until the first extraction – originally planned for the 1 July - to allow for the public to have a proper understanding of what the programme was intended for and to give enough time to make fully informed choices on whether they should opt-out or not.
“It’s clear that previous communications from NHS Digital on this programme has, frankly, been either inadequate or non-existent.”
According to NHS Digital, “making better use of data will benefit millions of people right across the country”, and will quickly improve people’s care and health. However, it conceded that more time was needed to ensure that patients have enough time to consider whether they want to opt out of sharing their data.
“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,” said Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP.
"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.”