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 334.

    Step one to a 2 tier NHS then

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    328.rjparr - No-where does this announcement say the NHS is being privatised,
    Really? Oh no, what a fool I am, there was me thinking that cameron was expected to say "the coalition's key strategy is to open up the NHS in England to new ideas, sorry, I`m lying, this is about opening the NHS up to the markets"

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    This latest Govt. gimmick is nothing short of immoral!

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    I don`t want my medical history given to any company private or otherwise, don`t trust them '
    how many documents have been left on public transport or lost .
    it should be left to the person to decide not some politician

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    If this means that the NHS gets access to drugs at a greatly reduced cost then I have no problem.

    However, knowing the cosy relationship between MPs and the private sector, the chances are that no such benefit will come to the NHS. More likely, the private sector will get all the benefits at the expense of the rest of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    A question for the NHS and Data Protection experts who are participating in this great discussion (I say great as there is not much stroppiness so we are all sharing openly).

    I don't know the answer to this: If I was to die tomorrow (please, no), what happens to my medical record? Does it ever get 'erased'? (UK born+bred, living in UK).


  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    Why do people see the words "Private" and "NHS" in a headline and decide they know the story without reading it? No-where does this announcement say the NHS is being privatised, at least whinge about the right thing!
    The Tories will never be able to modernise the NHS without people crying privatisation but that shouldn't stop them trying to bring the best bits of the private sector into the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    Oops meant to say "This will be run on an 'opt out' rather than 'opt in' consent model "
    Anyway, there are lots of issues that are cause for concern with this proposal, too many to list here...

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    Who owns the information held by the NHS does it belong to the individual patients ,to the NHS, or the Government , is this just another idea to put the private sector in the driving seat ,Whilst I don,t have a problem with medical research companies having access to NHS general information
    their is a danger that individual names will filter through leading to wider access to this information.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    Beware DC, someone somewhere will be making money at our expense regardless of the promises made, just look at the DVLA and how they dish dish out our info.
    Before we know it the insurance co's of the UK will have profiled all our medical records and match the premiums to suit.
    Do we actually trust politicians?
    Spending time on legislation for this in the times we are in is worrying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    Hello Aurora
    Could I ask therefore if you are saying that the NHS management of the data, before it 'leaves' the NHS, could result in identifiable confidential information being given out?
    Personally I think the link between identifiable patient and their data needs to be separated before the data leaves the NHS (any 3rd party they use to do this still counts as NHS responsibility to me).

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    @314 'ichabod'. Viagra was originally designed as a drug to treat vascular disease. A side effect discovered was an improvement in erectile function due to improved blood flow.

    However, using unprescribed Viagra, can seriously affect your health if you have un-diagnosed heart disease. Plus buying 'Viagra' from internet suppliers can seriously harm your health, and your wealth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    "Here we go - it had to come - NHS privatisation by the back door"

    In what way is this anything to do with Privatisation?
    Have you just seen the word 'private' and made a knee-jerk reaction?

    "Here we go again", is correct though.
    Blinkered, ignorant opposition to suggestion which could benefit the whole country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    The NHS has a massive potentially useful data bank. Why not put it to good use, we've paid for it already?
    Problem is of course that we know data 'goes missing' on trains and 'gets copied' by 'unauthorised users' etc. So the public are rightly anxious and sceptical that any such data is anonymised and held secure. History shows we are right to be worried.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    As long as there is an "opt-out" for people who don't want their information to be shared, I don't see a problem. It would greatly decrease the amount of time needed to develop new treatments, and the benefits to business would make Britain attractive to medical science companies

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    "Patient Concern said it had real concerns about the proposals because the information would include postcodes and age profiles"

    If this is correct, I am against this. The idea of using the vast amount of data collected by the NHS to benefit patients is a good one, but confidentiality has to come first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    313, there is already a database of patients basic health issues avialable for use if you are away from home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    Patient records are the NHS's most important asset, no wonder the tories want to sell them off. This will be run on an 'opt out' rather than 'opt out' consent model - which never takes account of the wishes of vulnerable patients. Data that leaves the GP surgery won't be anonymised, this will be done at a data warehouse with the ability to then identify patients left in place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    Cracking idea. I work in the drug development industry and any novel concept that speed the advancement of science can only be good. If it drives money into the UK all the better. I would like to go further and allow individual to control the level of anonymity. Thousands of clinical trials start every year. Streamlining selection offers patients a greater chance

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    #303 rwill35396
    Is a health benefit ('profit') to the individual, NHS, and the UK, not a desired outcome?
    The health of the UK, it's 'profit', would increase I believe. Think about the possiblities if a group of school students delved into the data, and looked at something no one else wanted to look at, and came up with a new insight that helps change healthcare in the UK.
    What an achievement!


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