Up to 500 GP practices will trial care.data in a phased roll out beginning this autumn, NHS England has announced.

In a letter to clinical commissioning groups and local area teams, NHS England’s director of patients and information, Tim Kelsey, says that the delayed roll out of the controversial programme, which will extract data from GP practices, will begin with a pilot.

“This will involve a cohort of between 100 and 500 GP practices to trial, test, evaluate and refine the collection process ahead of a national roll out,” he says.

Public controversy around the care.data programme, forced NHS England to delay the extractions of a new monthly dataset from GP practices and linking this with other datasets, such as the Hospital Episode Statistics.

 It was due to start GP extractions last autumn, but this was first pushed back to March this year, before delaying it a further six months.

One of the main concerns around the programme has been the lack of information given to the public. During the six month delay, NHS England is launching a re-engagement programme to get the public on board.

 It has also established a care.data independent advisory group, which had its first meeting earlier this month.

Kelsey’s letter says that consultations with stakeholders and the advisory group has made NHS England realise that it needs to do more to ensure that that patients and the public have a clear understanding of the programme .

“In particular, we have been asked to provide greater assurance on issues such as: patients’ right to object to their identifiable data being shared; protecting privacy; the burden on GPs; and the controls around data,” he says in the letter.

“We will work with stakeholders to produce support materials, such as an optional template letter for patients and ways of making opting-out more straightforward.”

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has also announced that he will legislate to prevent the HSCIC from selling data for commercial use by insurers and other companies.

In order to regain “public faith”, the HSCIC also published an audit report earlier this month on its data releases between April and December 2013.

In June this year, it will publish a full report, which includes data released by its predecessor, the NHS Information Centre.

“Over the coming months, the HSCIC will work to provide assurances over the safety pf data collected, stored and shared, including the option of accessing data from a controlled environment, sometimes referred to as a ‘data-lab’ or ‘fume-cupboard’, for use by organisations requesting data,” says Kelsey in the letter.