[Ip-health] UK The dialectics of data exclusivity vs privacy?

Riaz K Tayob riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Mon Dec 5 06:01:08 PST 2011

Cameron accused of putting NHS on sale over plans for life sciences

Private companies could get access to NHS patient records under 
Cameron's plans to increase collaboration with industry

reddit this

Andrew Sparrow and Hélène Mulholland
guardian.co.uk, Monday 5 December 2011 10.42 GMT
Article history

David Cameron
David Cameron will say he wants the NHS to work 'hand-in-glove' with the 
life sciences industry. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

Labour has accused David Cameron of being willing to put "large chunks 
of the NHS up for sale" before a speech on Monday in which the prime 
minister will outline plans to increase collaboration between the health 
service and the life sciences industry.

Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, said he was worried about the 
commercialisation of the NHS after it was revealed that Cameron's plans 
could involve private companies getting access to patient records and 
other NHS data.

Cameron will say he wants the NHS to be "working hand-in-glove with 
industry as the fastest adopter of new ideas in the world". He will 
argue that this could benefit patients as well as the £50bn life 
sciences industry, described by Number 10 as the third largest 
contributor to economic growth in the UK.

Britain already has a good record in medical innovation, but Cameron 
will signal that he wants to make it easier for drug companies to run 
clinical trials in hospitals and to benefit from the NHS's vast 
collection of patient data.

He will announce a £180m "catalyst fund" to help develop projects until 
they attract outside investment. Universities and small- and 
medium-sized firms will be able to bid for money from the fund.

And he will announce a scheme that would give seriously ill patients 
access to drugs around a year before they were licenced for general use.

"The most crucial, fundamental thing we're doing is opening up the NHS 
to new ideas," Cameron will say. "I want the great discoveries of the 
next decade happening in British labs, the new technologies born in 
British startups."

His speech will coincide with the publication of a life sciences 
strategy from the Department for Business and a review of innovation in 
the NHS from David Nicholson, the NHS chief executive.

Burnham said that in principle he was not opposed to the idea of private 
firms getting access to some NHS data. But he said the government had to 
"tread carefully" in this area, and that he was concerned about 
Cameron's willingness to open up the NHS to the private sector. 
"[Cameron] sees no limit on the involvement of the private sector and 
says he wants it to be a 'fantastic business'. In his desperation to 
develop a credible industrial strategy, he seems willing to put large 
chunks of our NHS up for sale."

Roger Gross, from the pressure group Patient Concern, said that allowing 
private firms access to NHS data would mean "the death of patient 
confidentiality". Patient Concern resigned from a Department of Health 
consultation on the plan.

"We understand GP surgeries will have the right to refuse to release 
their patients' records, but whether patients will ever be told what is 
happening, let alone have the choice to protect their privacy, is still 
unclear," Gross said.

David Willetts, minister for universities and science, denied a conflict 
of interest could arise. Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme about 
concerns that the NHS would become a laboratory for the pharmaceutical 
industry to test its drugs on the UK population, and about the possible 
use of patient data and patient confidentiality, he said: "First of all 
there has to be absolute protection for the confidentiality of the 
individual patient's data and it shouldn't be possible to trace it back 
to an individual, and of course we absolutely understand that. This is 
above all in the interest of NHS patients."

Willetts said the government had a role to play because of the amount of 
public money that finances medical research and universities, as well as 
into the National Health Service.

He said there had been a failure to date to "link them all up" with 
independent private businesses.

"There should be a very clear route from the idea in the publicly 
supported research lab through to the application to the patient in the 
publicly supported NHS. We need to have a very clear route through. 
That's the way to get the businesses the growth for the future and of 
course it's the best thing for the patients as well."

He cited the example of Scotland, to highlight what can be achieved. "In 
Scotland, they are better than in England at linking up the data from 
the GPs, the data from the hospitals, researches," he said. "What that 
enabled them to do … is they reduced the rate of amputations from 
diabetes by 70%, they reduced the rate of blindness from people with 
diabetes by 40%, so there is a gain for the patient if you link up the 
data. But what they have also got in this fantastic cluster across the 
University of Dundee through to Strathclyde in Edinburgh, is they have 
got life sciences businesses setting up because they can also use this 
patient data to research and develop new products. So everybody gains: 
the patients get better treatment and the life sciences industry comes 
in. But that will only happen clearly if we can be absolutely confident 
of full protection of patient confidentiality."

More information about the Ip-health mailing list