The Department of Health’s director general of informatics has signalled that the government may be prepared to look again at controversial clauses on data sharing in the Health and Social Care Bill.
Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum seminar, held to inform policy makers in the UK and Europe, Christine Connelly outlined the intention behind the clauses in the Bill that apparently hand new powers to the health secretary to demand information.
These have proved controversial, with the BMA in particular expressing concern that the Bill as drafted could give the health secretary and the NHS Information Centre much wider powers to demand confidential information from GPs and hospitals.
Connelly denied this, and said she had only recently been made aware that the Bill had been interpreted in this way.
She said: “I need to go back and look at it [the drafting of the Bill] again. I can only tell you what the intention was. We do want to move to a world where we can draw on the data we have.”
She said the Bill was drafted to pass powers currently held by strategic health authorities and primary care trusts to use anonymised information to the new NHS Commissioning Board.
She said: “There are no expectations that the NHS Commissioning Board will have more power to demand more information than PCTs currently can. What is changing is the decision about what sets of data are required across the system.”
She said the NHS needed clarity about what sets of data GPs and hospitals required to collect and submit.
“The NHS Commissioning Board will be the place where we set standards [for data sets] and the commissioning board will have the ability to say ‘we need this dataset’.”
She went on: “I do not believe the Bill massively increases the power to collect data. It clarifies who is responsible for certain things.
"The idea that the Secretary of State would ask to see Christine Connelly’s hospital health record because he would like to have a look is not realistic. He has other things to do.”
She urged delegates to make a distinction between confidential, personal health records and wider datasets that are used for public health planning.
She said: “The NHS Commissioning Board may be interested in looking at patterns of prescribing, for example, for cancer survival data.
"The powers in place are about creating the power to see those things while at the same time being quite distinct about individual patient records and making sure that those are held in a confidential environment.”
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Connelly also scotched a tabloid story – and persistent NHS IT rumour – that royalty, MPs and celebrities will not have a Summary Care Record because of fears about confidentiality.
Asked whether this was true – and if so, what constituted “celebrity” – Connnolly said: “I do not know about royalty, but MPs and celebrities are being written to about the SCR. Just like everyone else, they can opt out; but there is no distinction.”