TPP founder Frank Hester has written to the health secretary Jeremy Hunt, arguing restricting his company’s data sharing scheme to address security concerns would be detrimental to patient care.
It comes as the BMA wades into the increasingly murky debate over who controls access to the GP records of millions of patient.
The doctor’s trade union is now calling on the thousands of GPs using TPP’s SystmOne electronic record to “urgently consider any action they need to take”, including switching off the system’s “enhanced data sharing function”.
“It has become clear that if patient records are being shared through TPP… GPs are unable to specify which other organisations can have access to their patients’ records.
This differs from the Information Commissioner’s Office’s latest advice that recommends GPs do not switch off SystmOne’s sharing function, despite ongoing data security concerns.
SystmOne is used by about a third of GP practices in England and holds the records of million of patients.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that the Information Commissioner’s Office had “data protection compliance concerns” about SystmOne’s “enhanced data sharing” , which was first introduced in 2012.
Some media have reported that it allowed patient records to be viewed by “thousand of strangers” not involved in their care. TPP has disputed these claims, stating that patients records cannot be accessed without their permission, except in emergencies.
Hester’s letter, obtained by Digital Health News, shows he has taken umbrage with some of the proposed changes to address ICO’s concerns.
“I passionately believe that to stop or restrict sharing in SystmOne would be a detriment to both patient care and the service that can be provided by doctors,” he said.
In particular, he said a proposal to make TPP’s data sharing possible only regionally, rather its current national “enhanced data sharing function”, were “flawed”.
He also objected to a recommendation to limit the scope patient information shared, at the discretion of patient’s GP.
“Our own sharing model used to work in a way whereby doctors could limit the record and restrict what was shared. However, collectively, it was decided this was clinically unsafe and that it would be better to share the whole record.”
As well as Hunt, Hester sent his letter to senior leaders at NHS England and NHS Digital.
Both NHS organisations declined to comment on the letter, referring Digital Health News to an earlier statement. A Department of Health spokeswoman said the health secretary would reply to Hester referred Digital Health News to the same earlier statement.
That statement said that all parties were working together to address the ICO’s concerns and a “full response plan will be implemented by summer”.
However, Hester’s letter suggested that there remains deep disagreement between GPs, NHS leaders and TPP about how best to share GP patient data.
In a statement provided to Digital Health News, BMA said the current SystmOne sharing model had patients worried and placed GPs in a concerning position.
“Urgent steps must now be taken by the system provider to address these important issues and to restore confidence of both patients and the profession.”
Hester’s argument against regional data sharing, which he claims would be both more risky for patients care and privacy, also runs counter to latest NHS guidance on data sharing not just for GPs, but across the NHS.
While at an early stage, the NHS has been consulting industry on a new national data sharing scheme that would be based on regional collection, based on STP footprints.
Patient data would then be pooled in a national “data lake” but this may only be population level data, either de-identified or anonymised, rather than a full patient record.
The disagreement also raises many of issues that most concerned GPs about the now defunct care.data national data sharing scheme, specifically that it left them unable to fulfill obligations as data controllers for their patients.
Read Digital Health News’ editorial on the TPP data sharing scheme controversy here.