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Critics of giant NHS database 'are scaremongering'

By Nick Triggle and Adam Brimelow
BBC News

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Opponents of the plan to share medical records on a giant database are "peddling scaremongering myths", medical research organisations say.

The warning by Patients4Data, an umbrella group for more than 70 bodies, comes after the launch of was delayed this week to the autumn.

Patients4Data said the opponents risked preventing patients benefiting from a revolution in modern medicine.

But privacy campaigners maintain their concerns are justified.

The central database will involve taking records from GP practices and linking them with hospital files.

Experts say it will enable them to assess diseases, examine new drugs on the market and identify infection outbreaks, as well as monitor the performance of the NHS.

To date, information has been available about what happens in hospitals, but not what goes on in GP surgeries.

The information made available on the database will be stripped of identifiable data, although it will include the gender, age band and area a patient lives in.

'Force for good'

The collection of medical records was due to have started in April, but NHS England announced on Tuesday that would now not happen for six months to allow for a fresh public information campaign.

Influential bodies such as Healthwatch England and the British Medical Association support the principle of sharing data but had called for a delay, saying the public had not been properly informed about the scheme.

But concerns had also been expressed that the programme could lead to privacy problems and data breaches.

George Freeman, a Conservative MP and founder of Patients4Data, which represents charities and drug companies, said: "There are those who oppose not just the mechanism of data handling but the principle of patient empowerment and greater accountability.

"We cannot let opponents peddling scaremongering myths stop patients benefiting from this quiet revolution of modern medicine. There are issues to be addressed. But data is a force for good, not a Big Brother-style conspiracy."

'Safe and transparent'

But a spokesman for MedConfidential, one of the most vocal opponents of, said it would like the project replaced.

"MedConfidential is campaigning to ensure that every flow of data into, within and out of the NHS is consensual, safe and transparent.

"The problem with is not mere miscommunication, it is that the entire scheme fails to meet the first and last of those criteria. It remains to be seen if it can be made safe, but it is for its proponents to prove this to the public's satisfaction before any upload is permitted to proceed."

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