The British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) have issued a joint letter to NHS Digital expressing concerns about the General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) programme.

NHS Digital announced in May 2021 that the new service would come into effect on 1 July 2021, with people given until 23 June to choose to opt out. The service aims to give planners and researchers faster access to pseudonymised patient information from GPs.

Addressed to Richard Alcock, the director of primary care technology at NHS Digital, the letter said that while the two organisations are “supportive of the principles of the new collection in promoting data sharing”, they wanted to formally express their concerns “about the lack of communication with the public” with regards to GPDPR.

“We are fully aware of the crucial role that GP data has to play in research and planning which can improve public health,” the letter states.

“However, it is important than any sharing of data is transparent and maintains public trust in how general practice and the NHS more widely uses their information.

“The current situation, whereby communications have been limited to NHS Digital’s online platforms, and by extension only those who are digitally literate is not sufficiently informing patients of the collection.

“Providing information for GP practices to share in waiting rooms after the programme had already launched, is an ineffective addition, especially given continued social distancing restrictions which limits the numbers of patients attending their GP practice in person or spending time in waiting rooms.”

Signed by Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP chair, and Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA’s general practitioners committee, the letter also raises concerns about the impact on GPs.

“It is unreasonable and inappropriate for it to be left to GP practices to communicate with patients at a time of extreme workload pressures and focus on the Covid-19 vaccination programme,” the letter adds.

“The RCGP and BMA have supported communications to practices in recognition of the legal requirement to comply with the new collection, but neither organisation has endorsed the programme.

“Given this legal requirement, individual practices have had no choice in this collection and cannot be responsible for ensuring patients are appropriately informed.”

The letter concludes with the two organisations asking NHS Digital to “reconsider” its stance on GPDPR.

“We would ask that NHSD reconsider your stance on this and take immediate action to run a public information campaign, possibly including the use of national help desks and local champions who GPs can signpost patients to in order to ensure the public is properly informed of this new collection and their options in terms of opting out,” it says.

The BMA and the RCGP join a number of organisations who have raised concerns about GPDPR, with some threatening legal action.

An upcoming edition of Digital Health Unplugged will explore the General Practice Data for Planning and Research. Guests will include Phil Booth from MedConfidential and will be available to listen on Spotify and Apple Podcasts on 15 June.