NHS England has started the roll-out of its scheme to contact every household in the country about plans to collect patient data from GPs, explaining how the information will be used and how individuals can opt out.

Leaflets are being sent to England’s 26.5 million households explaining the benefits of sharing information about the care they have received. Specifically, NHS England points out that it helps ensure that the quality and safety of services is consistent across the country "and can also highlight different diseases and conditions that may require more NHS investment".

The leaflet also stresses that patients have the right to object to their data being used for purposes other than their direct care. If they wish to restrict their data being used, patients are being advised to talk to their GP and an information line has been set up if they have any questions or concerns - the number is 0300 456 3531.

Mark Davies, medical director at the Health and Social Care Information Centre, said the body was set up "as the legal ‘safe haven’ for protecting and managing patient information [and] we want everyone to feel confident that their information is kept private and used in non-identifiable form to improve the quality of health and social care for everyone." He added that "equally important is that everyone knows that they have a choice and can raise an objection by simply talking to their GP".

Geraint Lewis, chief data officer at NHS England, noted that "the NHS has been collecting information like this from hospitals for decades but until now we’ve been missing information about the quality of care provided outside hospital. This initiative is about upgrading our information systems to get a more complete picture of the quality of care being delivered".

Imran Rafi, chair of the Clinical Innovation and Research Centre at the Royal College of General Practitioners, added that GPs understand the importance of sharing information appropriately both as part of delivering clinical care and for wider uses, such as research and for planning NHS services. "It is important that patients understand how the NHS uses and shares their information, and that they feel they have been given a proper choice to participate," he said.