Hunt challenged over patient-data sharing scheme delays

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has come under pressure in the Commons over delays to the start of a new NHS data-sharing scheme in England.

Work to start compiling the largely anonymised medical records on to the Care.data database was meant to begin in April, but NHS England decided it will not happen until the autumn after accepting the publicity campaign, which gives people the chance to opt out, needs to be improved.

It comes after the NHS admitted some records appear to have been wrongly given to the insurance industry.

At questions on 25 February 2014, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said Mr Hunt's handling of the scheme had been a "masterclass in incompetence" and accused him of presiding over "a spectacular collapse in confidence in the use of patient data".

He said there was a "growing public revolt" against the scheme and appealed to the health secretary to work with Labour to "get this programme back on track".

But Mr Hunt told him: "He searches for NHS crises with about the same success as George Bush searching for weapons of mass destruction."

He told the Commons patients would be able to opt of the scheme - a right, he said, which was not offered to them in data-sharing arrangements under Labour.

Dr Sarah Wollaston sought an assurance there will be no sale of data under the new programme. Mr Hunt told her he could give her that guarantee.

Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert said the Care.data programme offered "huge benefits" but the data was "hard to anonymise" which risked public confidence in the system.

He asked the health secretary to use the pause to make sure the data could be made anonymous so "people can have confidence in how their data will be used, and how they can opt out".

Mr Hunt said it was "too important to get wrong" and the pause would allow NHS England and the government "to give that reassurance".

The central database will involve taking records from GP practices and linking them with hospital records, which it is hoped will lead to medical advances.

However, there has been criticism from many including Healthwatch England that the public have been "left in the dark" over the plans amid reports not everyone received the leaflets explaining the project.

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