Everyone 'to be research patient', says David Cameron


David Cameron has said he wants to make huge numbers of patient records in England available to the drugs industry

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Every NHS patient should be a "research patient" with their medical details "opened up" to private healthcare firms, says David Cameron.

The PM says it will mean all those who use the NHS in England will be helping in the fight against disease.

He hopes the result will be that patients get faster access to new treatments and Britain's life sciences sector will become a world leader.

But critics say commercial interests are being put ahead of patient privacy.

In a speech in London Mr Cameron said he would consult on changing the NHS constitution, which governs how the the health service is run, so that all patients' data is used for medical research unless they want to opt out.

'Anonymous data'

He also announced that three million patients with chronic illnesses like diabetes or heart conditions are to get hi-tech equipment to monitor their health at home.

The Prime Minister said it was "simply a waste" to have a health service like the NHS and not to use the medical data it generated.

"Let me be clear, this does not threaten privacy, it doesn't mean anyone can look at your health records, but it does mean using anonymous data to make new medical breakthroughs.

"The end result will be that every willing patient is a research patient and every time you use the NHS you are playing a part in the fight against disease at home and around the world."

The government believes that as a result Britain can become a world leader in the field of life sciences - an industry already worth £50bn a year and employing 160,000 people - because of the expertise within the NHS and its strong university-based research.

"The end-game is for the NHS to be working hand-in-glove with industry as the fastest adopter of new ideas in the world," he said.

Methods 'stink'

That would act as a "huge magnet to pull new innovations through, right along the food-chain - from the labs, to the boardrooms, to the hospital bed".

Start Quote

The innovation drugs pipeline is not flowing like it used to and the number of medicines in late stage development has declined”

End Quote Fergus Walsh BBC medical correspondent

The announcement came as the Prime Minister unveiled a range of measures designed to boost Britain's pharmaceutical industry, encourage medical breakthroughs and get life-saving drugs to patients faster.

The "tele-health" drive will allow vital health checks to be carried out and sent electronically to GPs without the need for patients to make an appointment or visit a clinic.

"We've trialled it, it's been a huge success, and now we're on a drive to roll this out nationwide," he said. "The aim - to improve three million lives over the next five years.

"This is going to make an extraordinary difference to people. Diabetics taking their blood sugar levels at home, and having them checked by a nurse.

"Heart disease patients having their blood pressure and pulse rate checked, without leaving their home."

Patient Concern said it had real worries about the proposal to make patients' medical data available to private firms as the information would include postcodes and age profiles which would be possible to trace back to the individuals concerned.

Joyce Robbins, Patient Concern: "The methods of doing this are not at all acceptable"

"The aim is laudable... but the methods, they stink frankly," Joyce Robins, the organisation's founder, said.

"Our records should not be passed around by the Department of Health as they see fit or sold to private companies without our permission."

Data should only be made available on the basis of patients' "informed consent", she added.

Labour has said it will not allow Mr Cameron to "throw away essential safeguards" in his desperation to develop a credible industrial strategy.

But the pharmaceutical industry said "robust" safeguards were already in place and it was impossible to trace back anonymised data to individuals.

"We need people to understand that the benefits for all of us - our children and people who have got illnesses - are absolutely essential when it comes to using health records for research," said Neil Patel, from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

The NHS had a "unique resource" of medical records dating back to the 1940s, he added, and these had already been widely used in furthering understanding of conditions such as HIV and lung cancer.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    re 268. Since I'm so thick maybe you'd like to explain how the breakthroughs for let's say Viagra (erectile dysfunction) and VFend (anti-fungal) were made and crucially who provided the finance at each stage.
    It just happens I know the background on this one so interested to know what drives your NHS love-in as it obviously isn't actual knowledge of development activity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    If you are rushed into a hospital away from home it may save your life if your medical records are quickly available online. My doubts are simply that ALL Government organisations can't actually organise a drink up in a brewery. Their past data "errors" make up a formidable list. Highly paid incompetents which the cutbacks won't root out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.


    As mentioned earlier, some who have a difficult medical history that could blow their life to pieces if it fell into the wrong hands will be terrified by this idea. Just because you personally don't, doesn't mean everyone doesn't.

    Oh and some of people avoid storecards because they saw though the data-gathering for small reward idea when the stores first brought them out.;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    Isn't it right that we question the true reasons behind such an announcement? After years of u-turns on manifesto pledges, lies, incompetence, wars without consensus, ideological decisions that do not benefit the people or the country but the politicians, expenses scandals, illegality and poor govt forgive me if I don't take this on face value. Protect the NHS - we have nothing else left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.


    We do still, manufacture drugs in the UK, a number of which are just about to come "out of patent" protection. This was one of the big reasons that the UK Pfizer plant facilitating university research into the marketplace closed earlier this year. It's not simply a question of making money out of illness, but also making enough money to fund future money-spinning cures

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    #249 Terry

    I wish I could disagree, but I agree with you.

    As a former NHS employee, I agree totally that the biggest potential future breach of confidentiality based on these proposals is likely to come from the NHS. I have seen enough errors personally.

    I'm for this idea. However if I was to choose object to this, my Number One reason would be NHS inability to maintain confidentiality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    chrispp007 wrote
    "You could have your patient record on something like Google Health or Microsoft Health. So if you had a problem on holiday it could be viewed abroad."
    I've no doubt you could, but if you look at the agreement to use hotmail and Gmail, you'll note that mirosoft & Google OWN your emails & can do what the like with them, would you want the same for your medical records?

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    My problem is not so much the sharing of anonymous data its that once these breakthroughs are found the drug companys will charge so much for them that the NHS wont be able to afford to pay the costs for the patients to benefit anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    Profit profit profit - Cameron would sell his grandmother if he could make a fast buck on her. And folks out there who have private medical insurance - its ok for an ingrowing toenail but once you start costing the ins company for a serious condition your small print on your policy will get them out of treating you. Im so cynical but at my age ive lived thru all their lies

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    I respect people's fears for privacy. I understand the concerns people raise regarding tracing back data or having their ailments aired like dirty laundry.

    But consider that you are not unique in each illness, and if your name's not attached then you're as much of a digit in the system as we're already treated. Nobody cares. The only people who care who you are, are the doctors at your bedside.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    People instinctively react against sharing data that might save lives (inc theirs) yet share their shopping and other data constantly without question or perhaps realisation. You have to question why you don't want your data to be used, what are you afraid of? Is that more frightening than the clinical igorance and repetition derived from not sharing your data?

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.


    Private companies invent lots of things, yes, but they have an ulterior motive, which is profit. In my view, where health is concerned, profiting from ones illness could be construed as immoral. Also I happen to believe that it is the universities who come up with a lot of good ideas from bright young researchers led by experts in their fields, who want to improve lives benefitting ALL.

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    #263 Shab.
    Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Norway and Sweden are rated above the UK for Healthcare cost and outcomes.
    The USA is below in every comparison chart.
    Our political class always looks to the USA for their social model, never at Europe.
    If they talked about introducing a French or German style system rather than always quoting US models, it would not be such a concern.

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    Os's plan A for economy was hopeless & yet there is no plan B. NHS is being slowly killed off with jobcuts, white paper reforms, more(not less) bureacracy and an unsurvivable plan for future. Inflation is up, economy is down, We are a penniless nation on benefits, almost bankrupt as a nation, no manufacturing (everything gone or going to rest of EU-germany), & now no free NHS healthcare!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    Rebecca, forgive me if I try the profiling thing:

    You are young and idealistic. You're not an armchair socialist: you speak out and act for what you believe. You engage others. A graduate, possibly in a humanities subject, and now work in the financial sector, but not at the top. You are interested in people.

    I don't agree with all your views, but I am glad there are people like you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    re 242
    Good try and half right. The science research you refer to is often serendipitous eg a new molecule is designed for other reasons eg academic reearch (taxpayer funded); these are routinely sold to a drug company for pre-screening. The drug company as you imply then bears all the costs of development of candidate drugs into effective synthetic routes. OK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    Politics as always around Patient data. GPs don't wish to share your data because this is part of how they are paid (registered patients). The costs of how it is currently stored is very expensive / companies such as BT making lots of money!!!! You could have your patient record on something like Google Health or Microsoft Health. So if you had a problem on holiday it could be viewed abroad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    A hideous idea but not in the least bit surprising. This Tory party believes wholeheartedly in the notion that private enterprise can deliver better public service because private enterprise has the incentive of making money.That most private companies who get involved in public service will cut corners to maximse their profits is still denied by Tories everywhere despite evidence to the contrary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    279.Rebecca Riot
    You don't have to be old, male, or right wing to bitter and enraged by life. In fact, I cannot believe how many just accept everything or are not annoyed. Perhaps you are too young to see how much has deteriorated in your lifetime. It'd be interesting to see how you feel when you are as old as those you describe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    10 countries compared.


    Guess who has the highest death rate?


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