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 434.

    Sadly, the UK bureaucracy has an appalling record of incompetence with regard to data protection. Only recently they lost the details of every child benefit claimant. It will only be a months before someone is confronted with the shock that 'organisation 'X'' has their identity as well as their medical history. Great idea in theory, but an accident just waiting to happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    Are we to be compensated as big drugs companies rake in the fortunes or are we just a state freebie? After all we all pay for the NHS, surely we should gain in real terms from our collective? Information is a great source of wealth and should not be given for free.

  • 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 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 249.

    I'm a Data Protection Consultant, in principle, I have no problems with data sharing, and the proposal is that the data will be anonymised, Therefore, it's not a major data protection issue. My fears are that the controls within the NHS will be so weak, that errors will soon be made and DP breaches will occur.

    Sadly, Government's record of controlling data is not something to be proud of.


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