From The Telegraph:
High street pharmacies such as Boots, Tesco and Superdrug will be given access to NHS medical records, under a national scheme which privacy campaigners fear could expose patients to “hard sell” tactics.
Health officials have drawn up plans to send sensitive data from GP surgeries to pharmacies across the country, starting this autumn, without considering the views of patients.
NHS England says the scheme will ease pressures on family doctors, and improve the care given to patients in the High Street.
But campaigners fear major commercial chains will be able to exploit the valuable data, and use it to push the sales of their products.
Officials have now ordered the national rollout of the scheme, on the basis of an evaluation of pilots in 140 pharmacies which they say showed “significant benefits”.
But the official report, seen by The Daily Telegraph, shows that the research garnered responses from just 15 patients – a sample so small that their views were discarded from the research.
The scheme got the green light, after the pharmacists involved in the pilots gave it their backing.
Privacy campaigners described the revelations as “extraordinary”. They said the scheme could leave the public exposed to heavy marketing tactics, from firms with inside information about their health.
Phil Booth, from campaign group medConfidential, said the valuable data would prove “irresistible” to the commercial firms which could exploit it.
“This approach to medical confidentiality is corroding trust in the NHS,” he said.
“It is just extraordinary: to roll out a national programme on the basis of 15 responses from patients, some of whom are very likely to have been negative about it. Fifteen people out of 60 million? That’s not an evidence base for a national policy; that is an exercise in manipulation,” he said.
The British Medical Association has called for the scheme – which is due to start extracting confidential data from patients’ medical files next month – to be halted until better efforts have been made to communicate the plans.
NHS England says the scheme will ease pressures on family doctors
Mr Booth said the data held in the “summary care records” – which set out details of previously prescribed medications taken – would allow companies to target patients for sales.
“These are commercial organisations, large chains, who are looking for opportunities to make money,” he said. “If you give them access to all this medical information it is irresistible to them to use it, it doesn’t matter if you try to ban it,” he said.
Summary care records are held on all NHS patients, unless they specifically opt out.
The data from them will be sent on to all pharmacies, starting this autumn, but pharmacists have to ask patient’s for “permission to view” the record during any encounter
Latest figures show such records are held on 96 per cent of patients in England.
They include all medication prescribed over the last six to 12 months, and any personal information, such as diagnoses or patient preferences added to the file by GPs.
The scheme is a forerunner to a controversial, and much delayed, national scheme which will see fuller details from GP consultations held on a central database, unless patients opt out.
Firms such as Boots, Lloyds and Superdrug will be told that the summary record can only be accessed by pharmacists during interactions about patient care, such as prescription requests and “MOT” health checks.
Patients are supposed to be asked permission before their records are accessed.
The pilot schemes, which took place in Somerset, Northampton, North Derbyshire, Sheffield and West Yorkshire, between September 2014 and March of this year, involved independent pharmacists, chains and supermarket pharmacies.
In total, almost 2,000 summary records were accessed, the report on the scheme says.
A “benefits audit” by health officials found 92 per cent of pharmacists thought access to records improved their service to patients, and 96 per cent said it helped them to meet patients’ needs.
But patients’ surveys, which were supposed to be administered by pharmacists at 10 of the sites, gathered just 15 responses.
The report by the Health and Social Care Information Centre states: “For the patient questionnaire, very few results have been received (15). As a consequence they have not been taken into account in the high level benefits results.”
It goes on to conclude that the use of the records “proved extremely beneficial”.
However, it notes that pharmacy staff were confused about getting consent from patients before accessing sensitive data.
“The principles around asking patients for permission to view their summary care record and its practical application for some prevalent patient groups in the pharmacy setting caused confusion and uncertainty,” the report notes.
Kiron Kurian, a volunteer patient advocate from London for people with long-term health conditions, said: “When I talk to patients about this they are very worried – one of their biggest fears is that loyalty cards for Boots or Tesco could end up linked up with their medical information. We know there are supposed to be safeguards, but how many security breaches have we seen in the past?”
“We have seen insurers get hold of information, we have seen personal information sold at a profit, there is a lot of concern about the way data ends up being used,” she said.
A spokesman for NHS England said: “Pharmacies and Pharmacists can only use information for the offering of clinical service to patients. They are bound by the same terms of service and regulations as with their access to any other information. Pharmacists are regulated by the General Pharmaceutical Society and must comply with the Data Protection Act.”
A Tesco spokesman said: “Our pharmacies are regulated by the General Pharmaceutical Society and comply with the Data Protection Act. We would never use summary care records or prescription data to market to customers.”
A Superdrug spokesman said: “At Superdrug, patient care is our highest priority. All team members who work in our pharmacies have completed enhanced data protection training to ensure sensitive personal data is handled appropriately.
We do not subject patients to sales pressure based on prescription records and this will not change when the Summary Care Record is rolled out.”