Adults 'unaware of NHS data plans'

Medical records Data collection has moved on from paper files in GP surgeries

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Fewer than a third of adults recall getting a leaflet about changes to the handling of medical records, a poll for BBC Radio 4's PM programme suggests.

The NHS in England is set to collect data on patient care by GPs for the first time, uploading some of the information to a database.

Leaflets explaining the scheme, and how to opt out, should have been sent to 26.5 million households in January

But only 29% of 860 adults polled by ICM Research recalled getting one.

According to the poll, about 45% of people remain unaware of the plan to share some data from GP medical records.

Data sharing fears

Hospital data is already collected but NHS England says extending the initiative to general practice means it will be possible to get a fuller picture.

It says it will help plan services and improve patient care, and there will be strong safeguards to protect people's privacy, but critics worry that under the changes in some cases data shared with approved organisations outside the NHS could be identifiable.

NHS England told the BBC the leaflet campaign was only one way it was informing people of the change, but it would look into why so few people reported receiving leaflets.

Dr Geraint Lewis, NHS England's chief data officer, told the BBC: "We are hearing that certain patients have not received the leaflets, so we're working very closely with the Royal Mail."

But he did add that he was pleased that more than half of those polled did know about the changes.

Prof Nigel Mather, of the Royal College of GPs, which supports the scheme, said it reinforced its view that "more effort" was required to increase awareness.

Dr Neil Bhatia, a GP who is critical of the project and has worked to raise awareness, said: "The low numbers receiving a leaflet confirm the suspicions of very many GPs, including myself, that NHS England's public information programme has been a absolute shambles."

Patients group Healthwatch has called for a pause to the programme while patient concerns are addressed.

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