Tag Archives: 100KGP

care.data listening events and consultation: The same notes again?

If lots of things get said in a programme of events, and nothing is left around to read about it, did they happen?

The care.data programme 2014-15 listening exercise and action plan has become impossible to find online. That’s OK, you might think, the programme has been scrapped. Not quite.

You can give your views online until September 7th on the new consultation, “New data security standards and opt-out models for health and social care”  and/or attend the new listening events, September 26th in London, October 3rd in Southampton and October 10th in Leeds.

The Ministerial statement on July 6, announced that NHS England had taken the decision to close the care.data programme after the review of data security and consent by Dame Fiona Caldicott, the National Data Guardian for Health and Care.

But the same questions are being asked again around consent and use of your medical data, from primary and secondary care. What a very long questionnaire asks is in effect,  do you want to keep your medical history private? You can answer only Q 15 if you want.

Ambiguity again surrounds what constitutes “de-identified” patient information.

What is clear is that public voice seems to have been deleted or lost from the care.data programme along with the feedback and brand.

People spoke up in 2014, and acted. The opt out that 1 in 45 people chose between January and March 2014 was put into effect by the HSCIC in April 2016. Now it seems, that might be revoked.

We’ve been here before.  There is no way that primary care data can be extracted without consent without it causing further disruption and damage to public trust and public interest research.  The future plans for linkage between all primary care data and secondary data and genomics for secondary uses, is untenable without consent.

Upcoming events cost time and money and will almost certainly go over the same ground that hours and hours were spent on in 2014. However if they do achieve a meaningful response rate, then I hope the results will not be lost and will be combined with those already captured under the ‘care.data listening events’ responses.  Will they have any impact on what consent model there may be in future?

So what we gonna do? I don’t know, whatcha wanna do? Let’s do something.

Let’s have accredited access and security fixed. While there may now be a higher transparency and process around release, there are still problems about who gets data and what they do with it.

Let’s have clear future scope and control. There is still no plan to give the public rights to control or delete data if we change our minds who can have it or for what purposes. And that is very uncertain. After all, they might decide to privatise or outsource the whole thing as was planned for the CSUs. 

Let’s have answers to everything already asked but unknown. The questions in the previous Caldicott review have still to be answered.

We have the possibility to  see health data used wisely, safely, and with public trust. But we seem stuck with the same notes again. And the public seem to be the last to be invited to participate and views once gathered, seem to be disregarded. I hope to be proved wrong.

Might, perhaps, the consultation deliver the nuanced consent model discussed at public listening exercises that many asked for?

Will the care.data listening events feedback summary be found, and will its 2014 conclusions and the enacted opt out be ignored? Will the new listening event view make more difference than in 2014?

Is public engagement, engagement, if nobody hears what was said?

Building Public Trust [5]: Future solutions for health data sharing in care.data

This wraps up my series of thoughts on ‘Building Public Trust’ since the NIB Bristol meeting on July 24th.

It has looked at how to stop chasing public trust and instead the need to become organisations that can be trustworthy [part 1]. What behaviours make an organisation trustworthy [part 2]. Why fixing the Type 2 opt out is a vital first step [part 3], and why being blinded by ‘the benefits’ is not the answer [part 4], but giving balanced and fair explanations of programme purposes, commissioning and research, is beneficial to communicate.

So I want to wrap up by suggesting how communications can be improved in content and delivery. Some ideas will challenge the current approach.

Here in part five: Future solutions, I suggest why aiming to “Build Public Trust” through a new communications approach may work better for the public than the past. I’ll propose communications on care.data:

  • Review content:  what would ethical, accurate content look like
  • Strengthen relationships for delivery: don’t attempt to rebuild trust where there is now none, but strengthen the channels that are already viewed by the public to be trustworthy
  • Rethink why you communicate and the plan for when: All communications need delivered through a conversation with real listening and action based upon it. Equal priority must be given to both a communications plan for today and for the future. It must set out a mechanism for future change communications now,  before the pathfinders begin
  • Since writing this, the Leeds area CCGs have released their ‘data sharing’ comms leaflet. I have reviewed this in detail and give my opinions as a case study.

NIB workstream 4, underpins the NHS digital future,  and aims to build and sustain public trust, delivering plans for consent based information sharing and assurance of safeguards. It focuses on 4 areas: governance and oversight, project risks, consent and genomics:

“The work will begin in 2015 and is expected to include deliberative groups to discuss complex issues and engagement events, as well as use of existing organisations and ways to listen. There will also be a need to listen to professional audiences.”  [NIB work stream 4] [ref 1]

Today’s starting point in trust, trust that enables two-way communication, could hardly be worse, with professionals and public audiences. Communications are packaged in mistrust:

“Relations between the doctors’ union and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt hit a new low following his announcement in July that he was prepared to impose seven-day working on hospital doctors in England.” [BBC news, Aug 15, 2015]

There appears to be divided opinion between politicians and civil servants.

Right now, the Department of Health seems to be sabotaging its own plans for success at every turn.

What reason can there be for denying debate in the public domain of the very plans it says are the life blood of the savings central to the NHS future?

Has the Department learned nothing from the loss of public and professional trust in 2014?

And as regards the public in engagement work, Hetan Shah, executive director of the Royal Statistical Society said in 2014, “Our research shows a “data trust deficit”. In this data rich world, companies and government have to earn citizens’ trust in how they manage and use data – and those that get it wrong will pay the price.’ [RSS Data Trust Deficit, lessons for policymakers, 2014] [2]

Where do the NIB work stream discussions want to reach by 2020?

“The emergence of genomics requires a conversation about what kind of consent is appropriate by 2020. The work stream will investigate a strand of work to be led by an ethicist.” [NIB work stream 4]

Why is genomics here in workstream 4, when datasharing for genomics is with active consent from volunteers? Why will a strand of work be led by an ethicist for this, and not other work strands? Is there a gap in how their consent is managed today or in how consent is to be handled for genomics for the future? It seems to me there is a gap in what is planned and what the public is being told here. It is high time for an overdue public debate on what future today’s population-wide data sharing programme is building. Good communication must ensure there are no surprises.

The words I underlined from the work stream 4 paper, highlight the importance of communication; to listen and to have a conversation. Despite all the engagement work of 2014 I feel that is still to happen. As one participant summed up later, “They seem hell bent on going ahead. I know they listened, but what did they hear?” [3]

care.data pathfinder practices are apparently ready to roll out communications materials: “Extraction is likely to take place between September and November depending on how fair processing testing communications was conducted” [Blackburn and Darwen HW]

So what will patient facing materials look like in content? How will they be rolled out?

Are pathfinder communications more robust than 2014 materials?

I hope the creatives will also think carefully, what is the intent of communications to be delivered.  Is it to fully and ethically inform patients about their choice whether to accept or opt out from changes in their data access, management, use and oversight? Or is the programme guidance to minimise the opt out numbers?

The participants are not signing up to a one time, single use marketing campaign, but to a lifetime of data use by third parties. Third parties who remain in role and purposes, loosely defined.

It is important when balancing this decision not to forget that data  that is available and not used wisely could fail to mitigate risk; for example in identifying pharmaceutical harms.

At the same time to collect all data for all purposes under that ‘patient safety and quality’ umbrella theme is simplistic, and lends itself in some ways, to lazy communications.

Patients must also feel free and able to make an informed decision without coercion, that includes not making opting out feel guilty.

The wording used in the past was weighted towards the organisation’s preference.  The very concept of “data sharing” is weighted positively towards the organisation. Even though in reality the default is for data to be taken by the organisation, not donated by the citizen. In other areas of life, this is recognised as an unwilling position for the citizen to be in.

At the moment I feel that the scope of purposes both today and future are not clearly defined enough in communications or plans for me personally to be able to trust them. Withholding information about how digital plans will fit into the broader NHS landscape and what data sharing will mean beyond 2020 appears rightly or wrongly,  suspicious. Department of Health, what are you thinking?

What the organisation says it will do, it must do and be seen to do, to be demonstrably trustworthy.

This workstream carries two important strands of governance and oversight which now need to be seen to happen. Implementing the statutory footing of the National Data Guardian, which has been talked about since October 2014 and ‘at the earliest opportunity’ seems to have been rather long in coming, and ‘a whole system’ that respects patient choice. What will this look like and how will it take into account the granular level of choices asked for at care.data listening events through 2014?

“By April 2016 NIB will publish, in partnership with civil society and patient leaders, a roadmap for moving to a whole-system, consent-based approach, which respects citizens’ preferences and objections about how their personal and confidential data is used, with the goal of implementing that approach by December 2020.”

‘By December 2020’ is still some time away, yet the pathfinders for care.data rolls on now regardless. The proof that will demonstrate what was said about data use actually is what happens to data, that what is communicated is trustworthy, is part of a system that can communicate this by recording and sharing consent decisions, “and can provide information on the use to which an individual’s data has been put. Over the longer term, digital solutions will be developed that automate as far as possible these processes.”

Until then what will underpin trust to show that what is communicated is done, in the short term?

Future proofing Communications must start now

Since 2013 the NHS England care.data approach appeared to want a quick data grab without long term future-proofed plans. Like the hook-up app approach to dating.

To enable the NIB 2020 plans and beyond, to safeguard research in the public interest, all communications must shape a trusted long term relationship.

To ensure public trust, communications content and delivery can only come after changes. Which is again why focusing only on communicate the benefits without discussing balance of risk does not work.  That’s what 2014 patient facing communications tried.

In 2014 there were challenges on communications that were asked but not answered, on reaching those who are digitally excluded, on reaching those for whom reading text was a challenge, and deciding who the target audience will be, considering people with delegated authority young and old, as well as those who go in and out of GP care throughout their lives, such as some military. Has that changed?

In February 2014 Health Select Committee member Sarah Wollaston, now Chair, said: “There are very serious underlying problems here that need to be addressed.”

If you change nothing, you can expect nothing to change in public and professional feeling about the programme. Communications cannot in 2015 simply revamp the layout and pacakging. There must be a change in content and in the support given in its delivery. Change means that you need to stop doing some things and start doing others.

In summary for future communications to support trust, I suggest:

1. STOP: delivering content that is biased towards what the organsation wants to achieve often with a focus on fair processing requirement, under a coercive veil of patient safety and research

START: communicating with an entirely ethical based approach reconsidering all patient data held at HSCIC and whether omission of  ‘commercial use’, balanced risks as identified in the privacy impact assessment and stating ‘your name is not included’ is right.  

2. STOP: Consider all the releases of health data held by HSCIC again and decide for each type if they are going to deliver public confidence that your organisations are trustworthy. 

START: communicate publicly which commercial companies, re-users and back office would no longer be legally eligible to receive data and why. Demonstrate organisations who received data in the past that will not in future.  

3. STOP: the Department of Health and NHS England must stop undermining trust in its own leadership, through public communications that voice opposition to medical professional bodies. Doctors are trusted much more than politicians.

START: strengthen the public-GP relationship that is already well trusted. Strengthen the GP position that will in turn support the organisational-trust-chain that you need to sustain public support. 

4. STOP: stop delaying the legislative changes needed on Data Guardian and penalties for data misuse 

START: implement them and clearly explain them in Parliament and press

5. STOP: don’t rush through short term short-cuts  to get ‘some’ data but ignore the listening from the public that asked for choice.

START: design a thorough granular consent model fit for the 21stC and beyond and explain to the public what it will offer, the buy in for bona fide research will be much greater (be prepared to define ‘research’!

6. STOP: saying that future practices have been changed and that security and uses are now more trustworthy than in the past. Don’t rush to extract data until you can prove you are trustworthy.

START: Demonstrate in future who receives data to individuals through a data use report. Who future users are in practice can only be shown through a demonstrable tool to see your word can be relied upon in practice. This will I am convinced, lower the opt out rate.

 Point 6 is apparently work-in-progress. [p58]
NIB2015

7. STOP: rolling out the current communications approach without any public position on what changes will mean they are notified before a new purpose and user in future of our data

START: design a thorough change communications model fit for the 21stC and beyond and tell the public in THIS round of communications what changes of user or purposes will trigger a notification to enable them to opt out in future BEFORE a future change i.e. in a fictional future – if the government decided that the population wide database should be further commercialised ‘for the purposes of health’, linked to the NHSBT blood donor registry and sold to genomic research companies, how would I as a donor be told, BEFORE the event?

There are still unknowns in content and future scope that mean communications are difficult. If you don’t know what you’re saying how to say it is hard. But what is certain is that there are future changes in the programme planned, and how to communicate these these with the public and professionals must be designed for now, so that what we are signed up for today, stays what we signed up for.

Delivering messages about data sharing and the broader NHS, the DH/NHS England should consider carefully their relationships and behaviours, all communication becomes relevant to trust.

Solutions cannot only be thought of in terms tools, not of what can be imposed on people, but of what can be achieved with people.

That’s people from the public and professionals and the programme working with the same understanding of the plans together, in a trusted long term relationship.

For more detail including my case study comments on the Leeds area CCGs comms leaflet, continue reading below.

Thanks for sharing in discussions of ideas in my five part post on Building public trust – a New Approach. Comments welcome.

Continue reading “Building Public Trust [5]: Future solutions for health data sharing in care.data” »

care.data : the economic value of data versus the public interest?

 This is a repost of my opinion piece published in StatsLife in June 2015.

The majority of the public supports the concept of using data for public benefit.[1] But the measurable damage done in 2014 to the public’s trust in data sharing [2] and reasons for it, are an ongoing threat to its achievement.

Rebuilding trust and the public legitimacy of government data gathering could be a task for Sisyphus, given the media atmosphere clouded by the smoke and mirrors of state surveillance. As Mark Taylor, chair of the NHS’s Confidentiality Advisory Group wrote when he considered the tribulations of care.data [3] ‘…we need a much better developed understanding of ‘the public interest’ than is currently offered by law.’

So what can we do to improve this as pilot sites move forward and for other research? Can we consistently quantify the value of the public good and account for intangible concerns and risks alongside demonstrable benefits? Do we have a common understanding of how the public feels what is in its own best interests?

And how are shifting public and professional expectations to be reflected in the continued approach to accessing citizens’ data, with the social legitimacy upon which research depends?

Listening and lessons learned

Presented as an interval to engage the public and professionals, the 18 month long pause in care.data involved a number of ‘listening’ events. I attended several of these to hear what people were saying about the use of personal health data. The three biggest areas of concern raised frequently [4] were:

  • Commercial companies’ use and re-use of data
  • Lack of transparency and control over who was accessing data for what secondary purposes, and
  • Potential resulting harms: from data inaccuracy, loss of trust and confidentiality, and fear of discrimination.

It’s not the use of data per se that the majority of the public raises objection to. Indeed many people would object if health data were not used for research in the public interest. Objections were more about the approach to this in the past and in the future.

There is a common understanding of what bona fide research is, how it serves the public interest, and polls confirm a widespread acceptance of ‘reasonable’ research use of data. The HSCIC audit under Sir Nick Partridge [5] acknowledged that some past users or raw data sharing had not always met public expectations of what was ‘reasonable’. The new secure facility should provide a safe setting for managing this better, but open questions remain on governance and transparency.

As one question from a listening event succinctly put it [6]:

‘Are we saying there will be only clinical use of the data – no marketing, no insurance, no profit making? This is our data.’

Using the information gleaned from data was often seen as exploitation when used in segmenting the insurance markets, consumer market research or individual targeting. There is also concern, even outright hostility, to raw health data being directly sold, re-used or exchanged as a commodity – regardless whether this is packaged as ‘for profit’ or ‘covering administrative costs’.

Add to that, the inability to consent to, control or find out who uses individual level data and for what purpose, or to delete mistakes, and there is a widespread sense of disempowerment and loss of trust.

Quantifying the public perception of care.data’s value

While the pause was to explain the benefits of the care.data extraction, it actually seemed clear at meetings that people already understood the potential benefits. There is clear public benefit to be gained for example, from using data as a knowledge base, often by linking with other data to broaden scientific and social insights, generating public good.

What people were asking, was what new knowledge would be gained that isn’t gathered from non-identifiable data already? Perhaps more tangible, yet less discussed at care.data events, is the economic benefits for commissioning use by using data as business intelligence to inform decisions in financial planning and cost cutting.

There might be measurable economic public good from data, from outside interests who will make a profit by using data to create analytic tools. Some may even sell information back into the NHS as business insights.

Care.data is also to be an ‘accelerator’ for other projects [7]. But it is hard to find publicly available evidence to a) support the economic arguments for using primary care data in any future projects, and b) be able to compare them with the broader current and future needs of the NHS.

A useful analysis could find that potential personal benefits and the public good overlap, if the care.data business case were to be made available by NHS England in the public domain. In a time when the NHS budget is rarely out of the media it seems a no-brainer that this should be made open.

Feedback consistently shows that making money from data raises more concern over its uses. Who all future users might be remains open as the Care Act 2014 clause is broadly defined. Jamie Reed MP said in the debate [8]: ‘the new clause provides for entirely elastic definitions that, in practice, will have a limitless application.’

Unexpected uses and users of public data has created many of its historical problems. But has the potential future cost of ‘limitless’ applications been considered in the long term public interest? And what of the confidentiality costs [9]? The NHS’s own Privacy Impact Assessment on care.data says [10]:

‘The extraction of personal confidential data from providers without consent carries the risk that patients may lose trust in the confidential nature of the health service.

Who has quantified the cost of that loss of confidence and have public and professional opinions been accounted for in any cost/benefit calculations? All these tangible and intangible factors should be measured in calculating its value in the public interest and ask, ‘what does the public want?’ It is after all, our data and our NHS.

Understanding shifting public expectations

‘The importance of building and maintaining trust and confidence among all stakeholder groups concerned – including researchers, institutions, ethical review boards and research participants – as a basis for effective data sharing cannot be overstated.’ – David Carr, policy adviser at the Wellcome Trust [11]

To rebuild trust in data sharing, individuals need the imbalance of power corrected, so they can control ‘their data’. The public was mostly unaware health records were being used for secondary purposes by third parties, before care.data. In February 2014, the secretary of state stepped in to confirm an opt-out will be offered, as promised by the prime minister in his 2010 ‘every patient a willing research patient’ speech.

So leaving aside the arguments for and against opt-in versus opt-out (and that for now it is not technically possible to apply the 700,000 opt-outs already made) the trouble is, it’s all or nothing. By not offering any differentiation between purposes, the public may feel forced to opt-out of secondary data sharing, denying all access to all their data even if they want to permit some uses and not others.

Defining and differentiating secondary uses and types of ‘research purposes’ could be key to rebuilding trust. The HSCIC can disseminate information ‘for the purposes of the provision of health care or adult social care, or the promotion of health’. This does not exclude commercial use. Cutting away commercial purposes which appear exploitative from purposes in the public interest could benefit the government, commerce and science if, as a result, more people would be willing to share their data.

This choice is what the public has asked for at care.data events, other research events [12] and in polls, but to date has yet to see any move towards. I feel strongly that the government cannot continue to ignore public opinion and assume its subjects are creators of data, willing to be exploited, without expecting further backlash. Should a citizen’s privacy become a commodity to put a price tag on if it is a basic human right?

One way to protect that right is to require an active opt-in to sharing. With ongoing renegotiation of public rights and data privacy at EU level, consent is no longer just a question best left ignored in the pandora’s box of ethics, as it has been for the last 25 years in hospital data secondary use. [13]

The public has a growing awareness, differing expectations, and different degrees of trust around data use by different users. Policy makers ignoring these expectations, risk continuing to build on a shaky foundation and jeopardise the future data sharing infrastructure. Profiting at the expense of public feeling and ethical good practice is an unsustainable status quo.

Investing in the public interest for future growth

The care.data pause has revealed differences between the thinking of government, the drivers of policy, the research community, ethics panels and the citizens of the country. This is not only about what value we place on our own data, but how we value it as a public good.

Projects that ignore the public voice, that ‘listen’ but do not act, risk their own success and by implication that of others. And with it they risk the public good they should create. A state which allows profit for private companies to harm the perception of good research practice sacrifices the long term public interest for short term gain. I go back to the words of Mark Taylor [3]:

‘The commitment must be an ongoing one to continue to consult with people, to continue to work to optimally protect both privacy and the public interest in the uses of health data. We need to use data but we need to use it in ways that people have reason to accept. Use ‘in the public interest’ must respect individual privacy. The current law of data protection, with its opposed concepts of ‘privacy’ and ‘public interest’, does not do enough to recognise the dependencies or promote the synergies between these concepts.’ 

The economic value of data, personal rights and the public interest are not opposed to one another, but have synergies and a co-dependency. The public voice from care.data listening could positively help shape a developing consensual model of data sharing if the broader lessons learned are built upon in an ongoing public dialogue. As Mark Taylor also said, ‘we need to do this better.’

*******

[1] according to various polls and opinions gathered from my own discussions and attendance at care.data events in 2014 [ refs: 2, 4. 6. 12]

[2] The data trust deficit, work by the Royal Statistical Society in 2014

[3] M Taylor, “Information Governance as a Force for Good? Lessons to be Learnt from Care.data”, (2014) 11:1 SCRIPTed 1 http://script-ed.org/?p=1377

[4] Communications and Change – blogpost http://jenpersson.com/care-data-communications-change/

[5] HSCIC audit under Sir Nick Partridge https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-data-releases-made-by-the-nhs-information-centre

[6] Listening events, NHS Open Day blogpost http://jenpersson.com/care-data-communications-core-concepts-part-two/

[7] Accelerator for projects mentioned include the 100K Genomics programme https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8HCbXsC4z8

[8] Hansard http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140311/debtext/140311-0002.htm

[9] Confidentiality Costs; StatsLife http://www.statslife.org.uk/opinion/1723-confidentiality-costs

[10] care.data privacy impact assessment Jan 2014 [newer version has not been publicly released] http://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/pia-care-data.pdf

[11] Wellcome Trust http://blog.wellcome.ac.uk/2015/04/08/sharing-research-data-to-improve-public-health/

[12]  Dialogue on Data – Exploring the public’s views on using linked administrative data for research purposes: https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/publications/1652/Dialogue-on-Data.aspx

[13] HSCIC Lessons Learned http://www.hscic.gov.uk/article/4780/HSCIC-learns-lessons-of-the-past-with-immediate-programme-for-change

The views expressed in this article originally published in the Opinion section of StatsLife are solely mine, the original author. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Statistical Society.

A review of NHS news in 2014, from ‘the Spirit of the NHS Future’.

Respectful of all the serious, current news and that of the past year, this is a lighthearted look back at some of the stories of 2014. ‘The Spirit of the NHS Future’ looks forwards into 2015 & at what may still be changed.

***

The Spirit of the NHS Future  visits the Powers-at-be
(To the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas)

[click to open music in another window]

On the first day of Christmas
the Spirit said to me:
I’m the ghost of the family GP.

On the second day of Christmas
the Spirit said to me: a
two-tiered system,
in the future I foresee.

On the third day of Christmas
the Spirit said to me:
You told GPs,
merge or hand in keys,
feder-ate or salaried please.

On the fourth day of Christmas
the Spirit said, I hear:
“Save our surgeries”,
MPIG freeze,
partners on their knees,
blame commissioning on local CCGs.

On the fifth day of Christmas
the Spirit said to me:
Five Ye-ar Plan!
Call it Forward View,
digital or screwed.
Let’s have a new review,
keep ‘em happy at PWC.

On the sixth day of Christmas
the Spirit said to me:
Ill patients making,
out-of-Ho-urs-rings!
Callbacks all delayed,
six hours wait,
one one one mistakes.
But must tell them not to visit A&E.

On the seventh day of Christmas
the Spirit said, GPs:
see your service contract,
with the QOF they’re trimming,
what-will-this-bring?
Open Christmas Eve,
New Year’s no reprieve,
please don’t cheat our Steve,
or a breach notice will you see.

On the eighth day of Christmas
the Spirit said to me:
Population’s ageing,
social care is straining,
want is pro-creating,
obe-si-ty’s the thing!
Cash to diagnose,
statins no one knows,
indicator woes,
and Doc Foster staff employed at CQC.

On the ninth day of Christmas
the Spirit said to me:
Cash for transforming,
seven days of working.
Think of emigrating,
ten grand re-registration.
Four-teen hour stints!
DES and LES are fixed.
Called to heal the sick,
still they love the gig,
being skilled, conscientious GPs.

On the tenth day of Christmas
the Spirit said to me:
Many Lords a-leaping,
Owen’s not been sleeping,
private contracts creeping,
Circle’s ever growing.
Care home sales not slowing.
Merge-eve-ry-thing!
New bidding wars,
tenders are on course
top nine billion, more,
still you claim to run it nation-al-ly.

On the eleventh day of Christmas
the Spirit said to me:
Patient groups are griping,
records you’ve been swiping,
listening while sharing,
data firms are buying,
selling it for mining,
opt-out needs defining,
block Gold-acre tweets!
The care dot data* board
minutes we shall hoard,
troubled pilots loom.
Hi-de Partridge’s report behind a tree?

On the twelfth day of Christmas
the Spirit said to me:
disabled are protesting
sanctions, need arresting,
mental health is failing,
genomes we are trading,**
staff all need more paying,
boundaries set for changing,
top-down re-arranging,
All-this-to-come!
New hires, no absurd,
targets rule the world,
regulation first.
What’s the plan to save our service, Jeremy?

– – – – – –

Thanks to the NHS staff, whose hard work, grit and humour, continues to offer the service we know. You keep us and our loved ones healthy and whole whenever possible, and deal with us & our human frailty, when it is not.

Dear GPs & other NHS staff who’ve had a Dickens of a year. Please, don’t let the system get you down.

You are appreciated, & not just at Xmas. Happy New Year everyone.

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”
Charles Dickens,   A Christmas Carol, 1843

– – – – –

*New Statesman, Dr Phil Whitaker’s Health Matters column, 20th March 2014, ‘Hunt should be frank about the economic imperative behind the urgency to establish the [care.data] database and should engage in a sensible discussion about what might be compromised by undue haste.’

**Genomics England Kickstarting a Genomics Industry

On Being Human – moral and material values

The long running rumours of change afoot on human rights political policy were confirmed recently, and have been in the media and on my mind since.

Has human value become not just politically acceptable, but politically valuable?

Paul Bernal in his blog addressed the subject which has been on my mind, ‘Valuing the Human’ and explored the idea, ‘Many people seem to think that there isn’t any value in the human, just in certain kinds of human.’

Indeed, in recent months there appears to be the creation of a virtual commodity, making this concept of human value “not just politically acceptable, but politically valuable.” The concept of the commodity of human value, was starkly highlighted by Lord Freud’s recent comments, on human worth. How much a disabled person should earn was the focus of the remarks, but conflated the price of labour and human value.

European Rights undermined

Given the party policy announcements and the response by others in government or lack of it, it is therefore unsurprising that those familiar with human rights feel they will be undermined in the event that the policy proposals should ever take effect. As the nation gears up into full electioneering mode for May 2015, we have heard much after party speeches, about rights and responsibilities in our dealings with European partners, on what Europe contributes to, or takes away from our sovereignty in terms of UK law. There has been some inevitable back-slapping and generalisation in some quarters that everything ‘Europe’ is bad.

Whether or not our state remains politically within the EU may be up for debate, but our tectonic plates are not for turning. So I find it frustrating when politicians speak of or we hear of in the media, pulling out of Europe’ or similar.

This conflation of language is careless,  but I fear it is also dangerous in a time when the right wing fringe is taking mainstream votes and politicians in by-elections. Both here in the UK and in other European countries this year, far right groups have taken significant votes.

Poor language on what is ‘Europe’ colours our common understanding of what ‘Europe’ means, the nuances of the roles organisational bodies have, for example the differences between the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice, and their purposes are lost entirely.

The values imposed in the debate are therefore misaligned with the organisations’ duties, and all things ‘European’ and organisations  are tarred with the same ‘interfering’ brush and devalued.

Human Rights were not at their heart created by ‘Europe’ nor are they only some sort of treaty to be opted out from, [whilst many are enshrined in treaties and Acts which were, and are] but their values risk being conflated with the structures which support them.

“A withdrawal from the convention could jeopardise Britain’s membership of the EU, which is separate to the Council of Europe whose members are drawn from across the continent and include Russia and Ukraine. Membership of the Council of Europe is a requirement for EU member states.” [Guardian, October 3rd – in a clearly defined article]

The participation in the infrastructure of ‘Brussels’ however, is convenient to conflate with values; a loss of sovereignty, loss of autonomy, frivoulous legislation. Opting out of a convention should not mean changing our values. However it does seem the party attitude now on show, is seeking to withdraw from the convention. This would mean withdrawing the protections the structure offers. Would it mean withdrawing rights offered to all citizens equally as well?

Ethical values undermined

Although it varies culturally and with few exceptions, I think we do have in England a collective sense of what is fair, and how we wish to treat each others as human beings. Increasingly however, it feels as though through loose or abuse of language in political debate we may be giving ground on our ethics. We are being forced to bring the commodity of human value to the podium, and declare on which side we stand in party politics. In a time of austerity, there is a broad range of ideas how.

Welfare has become branded ‘benefits’. Migrant workers, ‘foreigners’ over here for ‘benefit tourism’. The disabled labeled ‘fit for work’ regardless of medical fact. It appears, increasingly in the UK, some citizens are being measured by their economic material value to contribute or take away from ‘the system’.

I’ve been struck by the contrast coming from 12 years abroad, to find England a place where the emphasis is on living to work, not working to live. If we’re not careful, we see our personal output in work as a measure of our value. Are humans to be measured only in terms of our output, by our productivity, by our ‘doing’ or by our intrinsic value as an individual life? Or simply by our ‘being’? If indeed we go along with the concept, that we are here to serve some sort of productive goal in society on an economic basis, our measurement of value of our ‘doing’, is measured on a material basis.

“We hear political speeches talking about ‘decent, hardworking people’ – which implies that there are some people who are not as valuable.”

I strongly agree with this in Paul’s blog. And as he does, disagree with its value statement.

Minority Rights undermined

There are minorities and segments of society whose voice is being either ignored, or actively quietened. Those on the outer edge of the umbrella ‘society’ offers us, in our collective living, are perhaps least easily afforded its protections. Travelers, those deemed to lack capacity, whether ill, old or young, single parents, or ‘foreign’ workers, to take just some examples.

I was told this week that the UK has achieved a  first. It was said, we are the first ‘first-world’ country under review by the CPRD for human rights abuse of the disabled. Which cannot be confirmed nor denied by the UN but a recent video indicated.

This is appalling in 21st century Britain.

Recently on Radio 4 news I heard of thousands of ESA claimants assigned to work, although their medical records clearly state they are long term unfit.

The group at risk highlighted on October 15th in the Lords, in debate on electoral records’ changes [col 206]  is women in refuges, women who feel at risk. As yet I still see nothing to assure me that measures have been taken to look after this group, here or for care.data.{*}

These are just simplified sample groups others have flagged at risk. I feel these groups’ basic rights are being ignored, because they can be for these minorities. Are they viewed as of less value than the majority of ‘decent, hardworking people’ perhaps, as having less economic worth to the state?

Politicians may say that any change will continue to offer assurances:
“We promote the values of individual human dignity, equal treatment and fairness as the foundations of a democratic society.”

But I simply don’t see it done fairly for all.

I see society being quite deliberately segmented into different population groups, weak and strong. Some groups need more looking after than others, and I am attentive when I hear of groups portrayed as burdens to society, the rest who are economically ‘productive’.

Indeed we seem to have reached a position in which the default position undermines the rights of the vulnerable, far from offering additional responsibilities to those who should protect them.

This stance features often in the media discussion and in political debate, on health and social care. DWP workfare, JSA, ‘bedroom tax’ to name but a few.


How undermining Rights undermines access

So, as the NHS England five year forward plan was announced recently, I wonder how the plan for the NHS and the visions for the coming 5 year parliamentary terms will soon align?

There is a lot of talking about plans, but more important is what happens as a result not of what we say, but of what we do, or don’t do. Not only for future, but what is already, today.

Politically, socially and economically we do not exist in silos. So too, our human rights which overlap in these areas, should be considered together.

Recent years has seen a steady reduction of rights to access for the most vulnerable in society. Access to a lawyer or judicial review has been made more difficult through charging for it.  The Ministry of Justice is currently pushing for, but losing it seems their quest in the Lords, for changes to the judicial review law.

If you are a working-age council or housing association tenant, the council limits your housing benefit claim if it decides you have ‘spare’ bedrooms. Changes have hit the disabled and their families hardest. These segments of the population are being denied or given reduced access to health, social and legal support.

Ethical Values need Championed

Whilst it appears the state increasingly measures everything in economic value, I believe the public must not lose sight of our ethical values, and continue to challenge and champion their importance.

How we manage our ethics today is shaping our children. What do we want their future to be like? It will also be our old age. Will we by then be measured by our success in achievement, by what we ‘do’, by what we financially achieved in life, by our health, or by who we each are? Or more intrinsically, values judged even, based on our DNA?

Will it ever be decided by dint of our genes, what level of education we can access?

Old age brings its own challenges of care and health, and we are an aging population. Changes today are sometimes packaged as shaping our healthcare fit for the 21st century.

I’d suggest that current changes in medical research and the drivers behind parts of the NHS 5YP vision will shape society well beyond that.

What restrictions do we place on value and how are moral and material values to play out together? Are they compatible or in competition?

Because there is another human right we should remember in healthcare, that of striving to benefit from scientific improvement.

This is an area in which the rights of the vulnerable and the responsibilities to uphold them must be clearer than clear. 

In research if Rights are undermined, it may impact Responsibilities for research

I would like to understand how the boundary is set of science and technology and who sets them on what value basis in ethics committees and more. How does it control or support the decision making processes which runs in the background of NHS England which has shaped this coming 5 year policy?

It appears there are many decisions on rare disease, on commissioning,  for example, which despite their terms of reference, see limited or no public minutes, which hinders a transparency of their decision making.

The PSSAG has nothing at all. Yet they advise on strategy and hugely significant parts of the NHS budget.

Already we see fundamental changes of approach which appear to have economic rather than ethical reasons behind them. This in stem-cell banking, is a significant shift for the state away from the absolute belief in the non-commercialisation of human tissue, and yet little public debate has been encouraged.

There is a concerted effort from research bodies, and from those responsible for our phenotype data {*}, to undermine the coming-in-2015, stronger, European data protection and regulation, with attempt to amend EU legislation in line with [less stringent] UK policy. Policy which is questioned by data experts on the use of pseudonymisation for example.

How will striving to benefit from scientific improvement overlap with material values of ‘economic function’ is clear when we hear often that UK Life Sciences are the jewel in the crown of the UK economy? Less spoken of, is how this function overlaps with our moral values.

“We’ve got to change the way we innovate, the way that we collaborate, and the way that we open up the NHS.” [David Cameron, 2011]

Launching genomics, lifeboats, & care.data [part 2]

“On Friday 1st August the media reported the next giant leap in the genomics programme in England, suggesting the 100K Genomics Project news was akin to Kennedy launching the Space Race. [1] [from 2:46.30].”

[Part one of this post is in this link, and includes thinking about care.data & genomics interaction].

Part two:

What is the expectation beyond 2017?

The investment to date may seem vast if, like me, you are unfamiliar with the amounts of money that are spent in research [in 2011 an £800M announcement, last summer £90M in Oxford as just two examples], and Friday revealed yet more money, a new £300M research package.  It is complex how it all adds up, and from mixed sourcing. But the stated aim of the investment is relatively simple: the whole genomes of 75,000 people [40K patients and 35K healthy relatives] are to be mapped by 2017.

Where the boundary lies between participation for clinical care and for research is less clear in the media presentation. If indeed participants’ results will be fed back into their NHS care pathway,  then both aims seem to be the intent of the current wave of participants.

It remains therefore perhaps unclear, how this new offering interacts with the existing NHS genetic services for direct clinical care, or the other research projects such as the UK Biobank for example, particularly when aims appear to overlap:.

“The ultimate aim is to make genomic testing a routine part of clinical practice – but only if patients and clinicians want it.” [Genomics England, how we work]

The infrastructure of equipment is enormous to have these sequences running 24/7 as was indicated in media TV coverage. I’m no maths whizz, but it appears to me they’re building Titantic at Genomics England and the numbers of actual people planned to take part (75K) would fit on the lifeboats. So with what, from whom, are they expecting to fill the sequencing labs after 2017?  At Genomics England events it has been stated that the infrastructure will then be embedded in the NHS. How is unclear, if commercial funding has been used to establish it. But at its most basic, there will be  no point building the infrastructure and finding no volunteers want to take part. You don’t build the ship and sail without passengers. What happens, if the English don’t volunteer in the desired numbers?

What research has been done to demonstrate the need or want for this new WGS project going forwards at scale, compared with a) present direct care or b) existing research facilities?

I cannot help but think of the line in the film, Field of Dreams. If you build it they will come. So who will come to be tested? Who will come to exploit the research uses for public good? Who will come in vast numbers in our aging population to exploit the resulting knowledge for their personal benefit vs companies who seek commercial profit? How will the commercial and charity investors, make it worth their while? Is the cost/benefit to society worth it?

All the various investors in addition to the taxpayer; Wellcome Trust, the MRC, Illumina, and others, will want to guarantee they are not left with an empty shell. There is huge existing and promised investment. Wellcome for example, has already “invested more than £1 billion in genomic research and has agreed to spend £27 million on a world class sequencing hub at its Genome Campus near Cambridge. This will house Genomics England’s operations alongside those of the internationally respected Sanger Institute.”

Whilst the commercial exploitation by third parties is explicit, there may also be another possibility to consider: would the Government want:

a) some cost participation by the participants? and

b) will want to sell the incidental findings’ results to the participants?

[ref: http://www.phgfoundation.org/file/10363 ref. #13]

“Regier et al. 345 have estimated the willingness-to-pay (WTP) for a diagnostic test to find the genetic cause of idiopathic developmental disability from families with an affected child. They used a discrete choice experiment to obtain WTP values and found that these families were willing to pay CDN$1118 (95% CI CDN$498-1788) for the expected benefit of twice as many diagnoses using aCGH and a reduction in waiting time of 1 week when compared to conventional cytogenetic analysis.”

“Moreover, it is advisable to minimise incidental findings where possible; health care professionals should not have an obligation to feedback findings that do not relate to the clinical question, except in cases where they are unavoidably discovered and have high predictive value. It follows that the NHS does not have an obligation to provide patients with their raw genome sequence data for further analysis outside of the NHS. We make no judgement here about whether the individual should be able to purchase and analyse their genome sequence independently; however, if this course of action is pursued, the NHS should provide follow-up advice and care only when additional findings are considered to be of significant clinical relevance in that individual…” [13]

How much is that cost, per person to be mapped? What is the expected return on the investment?

What are the questions which are not being asked of this huge state investment, particularly at a time when we are told he NHS is in such financial dire straits?

Are we measuring the costs and benefits?

Patient and medical staff support is fundamental to the programme, not an optional extra. It should not be forgotten that the NHS is a National Service owned by all of us. We should know how it runs. We should know what is spends. Ultimately, it is we who pay for it.

So let’s see on paper, what are the actual costs vs benefits? Where is the overall and long term cost benefit business case covering the multi-year investment, both of tangible and intangible benefits? In my personal research, I’m yet to find one. There is however, some discussion in this document:

“The problem for NGS is that very little ‘real’ information is available on the actual costs for NGS from the NHS perspective and the NHS Department of Health Reference Costs Database and PSSRU, where standard NHS costings are listed, are generally not helpful.” [13 – PHG, 2011]

Where are the questions being asked if this is really what we should be doing for the public good and for the future of the NHS?

Research under good ethics and bona fide transparent purposes is a public asset. This rollout, has potential to become a liability.

To me, yet again it seems, politics has the potential to wreck serious research aims and the public good.

Perhaps more importantly, the unrestrained media hype carries the very real risk of creating unfounded hope for an immediate diagnosis or treatment, for vulnerable individuals and families who in reality will see no personal benefit. This is not to undermine what may be possible in future. It is simply a plea to rein in hype to reality.

Politicians and civil servants in NHS England appear to use both research and the notion of the broad ‘public good’, broadly in speeches to appear to be doing ‘the right thing to do’, but without measurable substance. Without a clear cost-benefit analysis, I admit, I am skeptical. I would like to see more information in the public domain.

Has the documentation of the balance of patient/public good and  expected “major contribution to make to wealth creation and economic growth in this country” been examined?

Is society prepared for this?

I question whether the propositions of the initiative have been grasped by Parliament and society as a whole, although I understand this is not a ‘new’ subject as such. This execution however, does appear at least, massive in its practical implications, not least for GPs if it is to become so mainstream, as quickly as plans predict. It raises a huge number of ethical questions. Not least of which will be around incidental findings, as the Radio 4 interview raised.

The first I have is consideration of pre-natal testing plans:

“Aside from WGS of individuals, other applications using NGS could potentially be more successful in the DTC market. For example, the use of NGS for non-invasive prenatal testing would doubtless be very popular if it became available DTC prior to being offered by the NHS, particularly for relatively common conditions such as Down syndrome…” [

and then the whole question of consent, particularly from children:

“…it may be almost impossible to mitigate the risk that individuals may have their genome sequenced without their consent. Some genome scan companies (e.g. 23andMe) have argued that the risks of covert testing are reduced by their sample collection method, which requires 2ml of saliva; in addition, individuals are asked to sign to confirm that the sample belongs to them (or that they have gained consent from the individual to whom it belongs). However, neither of these methods will have any effect on the possibility of sequencing DNA from children, which is a particularly contentious issue within DTC genomics.” [13]

“two issues have emerged as being particularly pressing: first is the paradox that individuals cannot be asked to consent to the discovery of risks the importance of which is impossible to assess. Thus from a legal perspective, there is no ‘meeting of minds’ and contractually the contract between researcher and participant might be void. It is also unclear whether informed consent is sufficient to deal with the feedback of incidental findings which are not pertinent to the initial research or clinical question but that may have either clinical or personal significance…” [PHG page 94]

And thirdly, we should not forget the elderly. In February 2014 the Department of Health proposed that a patient’s economic value should be taken into account when deciding on healthcare. Sir Andrew Dillon, head of the National Institute for Healthcare and Excellence (NICE, who set national healthcare budgets and priorities), disagreed saying:
“What we don’t want to say is those 10 years you have between 70 and 80, although clearly you are not going to be working, are not going to be valuable to somebody.

Clearly they are. You might be doing all sorts of very useful things for your family or local society. That’s what we are worried about and that’s the problem with the Department of Health’s calculation.

There are lots of people who adopt the fair-innings approach; ‘you’ve had 70 years of life you’ve got to accept that society is going to bias its investments in younger people.”

[14 – see Channel 4] Yet our population is ageing and we need to find a balance of where roles, rules and expectations meet. And question, how do we measure human value, should we, and on what basis are we making cost-based care decisions?

The Department of Health proposed that a patient’s economic value should be taken into account when deciding on healthcare. What is their thinking on genomics for the care of the elderly?

Clinical environment changes make engagement and understanding harder to achieve

All this, is sitting on shifting, fundamental questions on how decision making and accountability will be set, in a world of ever fragmenting NHS structure:

“More problematic will be the use of specific genomic technologies such as NGS in patient pathways for inherited disorders that are delivered outside the clinical genetics services (such as services for FH, haemophilia and sickle cell disease) and NGS that is used for non-inherited disease conditions. These will be commissioned by GP consortia within established care pathways. Such commissioning of companion diagnostics would, in theory be evaluated first by NICE. However, it is not clear what capacity NICE will have across a broad range of uses. In practice it seems likely that GP consortia may make a variety of different decisions influenced by local experts and pressure, funding and different priorities. Particular questions for NGS will include: How will commissioners be provided with the necessary evidence for decision-making and can this be developed and coordinated at a national level? How will commissioners prioritise particularly when it may be necessary to invest early in order to achieve savings later? What (if any) influence may commissioners be able to exert over the configuration of test providers (for example the rationalisation of laboratories or the use of private testing companies)? [13]
Today (August 8th) the public row between Roche and the Government through NICE became apparant on cancer treatment. And again I found myself asking, what are we not funding, whilst we spend on genomics?  If you did not you hear Sir Andrew Dillon & the discussion, you can listen again on BBC Radio 2 iPlayer here. [It’s in the middle of the programme, and begins at 01:09.06.]

Questions, in search of an answer
Where has the population indicated that this is the direction of travel we wish our National Health Service to take? What preparation has been made for the significant changes in society it will bring? When was Parliament asked before this next step in policy and huge public spend were signed off and where is the periodic check against progress and public sign off, of the next step? Who is preparing the people and processes for this explosive change, announced with sparklers, at arms length and a long taper? Are the challenges being shared honestly between policy, politicians and scientists, being shared with patients and public: as discussed at the stakeholder meeting at St.Barts London, 3rd October 2013 (a key panel presentation: 45 minute video with slides)? When will that be shared with the public and NHS staff in full? Why does NHS England feel this is so fundamental to the future of the NHS? Must we abandon a scuppered and sinking NHS for personalised medicine on personal budgets and expectations of increased use of private health insurance?

Is genomics really the lifeboat to which the NHS is inextricably bound?

The Patients and Information Directorate nor wider NHS England Board does not discuss these questions in public.  At the July 3rd 2014 Board Meeting, in the discussion of the genomics programme I understood the discussion as starting to address the inevitable future loss of equity of access because of genomic stratification, dividing the population into risk pool classifications [10.42] . To my mind, that is the end of the free-to-all NHS as we know it. And IF it is so, through planned policy. More people paying for their own care under ‘personalisation;  is in line with ISCG expectations set out  earlier in 2014: “there will be increasing numbers of people funding their own care and caring for others.”

Not everyone may have understood it that way, but if not, I’d like to know what was meant.

I would like to understand what is meant when Genomics England spokespeople  say the future holds:

“Increasingly to select most appropriate treatment strategy. In the longer term, potential shift to prevention based on risk-based information.”
or
“Review the role of sequencing in antenatal and adult screening.”

I would welcome the opportunity to fully understand what was suggested at that Board meeting as a result of our shared risk pool, and readers should view it and make up their own mind. Even better, a frank public and/or press board meeting with Q&A could be rewarding.

The ethical questions that are thrown up by this seem yet to have little public media attention.

Not least, incidental findings: if by sequencing someone’s DNA, you establish there is something for their health that they ought to be doing soon, will you go to that patient and say look, you should be doing this…. these are incidental findings, and may be quite unexpected and separate from the original illness under investigation in say, a family member, and may also only suggest risk indicators, not clear facts.

If this is expected to be mainstream by 2018, what training plans are in place as indicated needed as a “requirement for professionals across the NHS to be trained in genetics and its implications”? [presentation by Mark Bale, DoH, July 2014]

When will we get answers to these questions, and more?

Because there is so much people like me don’t know, but should, if this is our future NHS under such fundamental change as is hyped.

Because even the most esteemed in our land can get things wrong. One of them at the St.Bart’s events quotes on of my favourite myths attributed wrongly to Goethe. It cannot be attributed to him, that he said, ” “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” You see, we just hear something which sounds plausible, from someone who seems to know what they are talking about. It isn’t always right.

Because patients of rare disease in search of clinical care answers should be entitled to have expectations set appropriately, and participants in research know to what they, and possibly family members indirectly, are committed.

Because if the NHS belongs to all of us, we should be able to ask questions and expect answers about its planning,  how we choose to spend its budget and how it will look in future.

These are all questions we should be asking as society

Fundamentally, in what kind of society will my children grow up?

With the questions of pre-natal intervention, how will we shape our attitudes towards our disabled and those who are sick, or vulnerable or elderly? Are we moving towards the research vision Mr.Hunt, Cameron and Freeman appear to share, only for good, or are we indeed to look further head to a Gattacan vision of perfection?

As we become the first country in the world to permit so called ‘three parent children’ how far will we go down the path of ‘fixing’ pre-natal genetic changes, here or in PGD?

How may this look in a society where ‘some cornflakes get to the top‘ and genetic advantage seen as a natural right over those without that ability? In a state where genetics could be considered as part of education planning? [16]

For those with lifelong conditions, how may genetic screening affect their life insurance when the Moratorium expires*  in 2017 (*any shift in date TBC pending discussion) ? How will it affect their health care, if the NHS England Board sees a potential effect on equity of access? How will it affect those of us who choose not to have screening – will we be penalised for that?

And whilst risk factors may include genomic factors, lifestyle factors some argue are even more important, but these change over time. How would those, who may have had past genetic screening be affected in future requirements?

After the August 1st announcement, [11] The Wellcome Trust‘s reporting was much more balanced and sensible than the political championing had been. It grasps the challenges ahead:

“Genomics England has ambitious plans to sequence 100,000 genomes from 75,000 people, some of whom will also have cancer cells sequenced. The sheer scale of the plans is pretty daunting. The genetic information arising from this project will be immense and a huge challenge for computational analysis as well as clinical interpretation. It will also raise a number of issues regarding privacy of patient data. Ensuring that these genetic data can be used maximally for patient benefit whilst protecting the rights of the individual participant must be at the heart of this project.

At the beginning of the Human Genome Project, scientists and funders like the Wellcome Trust knew they were on a journey that would be fraught with difficulties and challenges, but the long-term vision was clear. And so it is with the plans for Genomics England, it will most certainly not be easy…”

Managing change

Reality is that yet again, Change Management and Communications have been relegated to the bottom of the boarding priorities list.

This is not only a research technology or health programme. Bigger than all of that is the change it may bring. Not only in NHS practice, should the everyday vision of black boxes in GP surgeries become reality, but for the whole of society. For the shape of society, in age and diversity. Indeed if we are to be world leaders, we have potential to start to sling the world on a dangerous orbit if the edges of scope are ill defined. Discussing only with interested parties, those who have specific personal or business interests in genomic research and data sharing, whilst at Board meetings not clearly discussing the potential effects of risk stratification and personalisation on a free at the point of delivery health service is in my opinion, not transparent, and requires more public discussion.

After all, there are patients who are desperate for answers, who are part of the NHS and need our fair treatment and equity of access for rare disease. There is the majority who may not have those needs but knows someone who does. And we all fund and support the structure and staff in our world class service, we know and love. We want this to work well.

Future research participation depends on current experience and expectations. It is the latter I fear are being currently mishandled in public and the media.

Less than a month ago, at the NHS England Board Meeting on July 3rd,  Lord Adebowale very sensibly asked, “how do we lead people from where we are, and how we take the public with us? We need to be a world leader in engaging all the public”

Engagement is not rocket science. But don’t forget the ethics.

If this project is meant to be, according to MP George Freeman [George 2], akin to Kennedy launching the Space Race, then, by Fenyman [12], why can they not get their public involvement at big launches sorted out?

Is it because there are such large gaps and unknowns that questioning will not stand up to scrutiny? Is it because suggesting a programme will end the NHS as we know it, would be fatal for any politician or party who supports that programme in the coming year? Or do the leading organisations possibly paternalistically believe the public is too dim or uninterested or simply working to make ends meet to care [perhaps part of the 42% of the population who expected to struggle as a result of universal welfare changes,  one in three main claimants (34 per cent) said in 2012 they ‘run out of money before the end of the week/month always or most of the time’] ? But why bother will the big press splash, if it should not make waves?

In the words of Richard Feynman after the Challenger launch disaster in 1986:

“Let us make recommendations to ensure that NASA officials deal in a world of reality in understanding technological weaknesses and imperfections well enough to be actively trying to eliminate them. They must live in reality in comparing the costs and utility of the Shuttle to other methods of entering space. And they must be realistic in making contracts, in estimating costs, and the difficulty of the projects.

Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed, schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met.

If in this way the government would not support them, then so be it. NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources. For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations… [June 6th 1986. Six months after the disaster, the Report to the Presidential Commission (Appendix F)]

Just like the Rosetta spacecraft is getting ever closer to actually landing on the comet, its goal, [15 – BBC Newsround has an excellent little summary] after over ten years, so too is genomics close to the goal of many. It is within grasp that the long-planned mainstreaming of genomic intervention, will touch down in the NHS. My hope is that in its ever closer passes, we get hard factual evidence and understand exactly where we have come from, and where we intend going. What will who do with the information once collected?

The key is not the landing, it’s understanding why we launched in the first place.

Space may not be the most significant final frontier out there in the coming months that we should be looking at up close. Both in health and science.  Our focus in England must surely be to examine these plans with a microscope, and ask what frontiers have we reached in genomics, health data sharing and ethics in the NHS?

******  image source: ESA via Nature

[1] “It’s a hugely ambitious project, it’s on a par with the space race how Kennedy launched 40 years ago.” [from 2:46.30 BBC Radio 4 Int. Sarah Montague w/ George Freeman]

[2] Downing Street Press Release 1st August – genomics https://www.gov.uk/government/news/human-genome-uk-to-become-world-numb

[3] 6th December “Transcript of a speech given by Prime Minister at the FT Global Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Conference” [https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-speech-on-life-sciences-and-opening-up-the-nhs]

[4] 10th December 2012 DNA Database concerns Channel 4 http://www.channel4.com/news/dna-cancer-database-plan-prompts-major-concerns

[5] Wellcome Trust- comment by Jeremy Farrar http://news.sky.com/story/1311189/pm-hails-300m-project-to-unlock-power-of-dna

[6] Strategic Priorities in Rare Diseases June 2013 http://www.genomicsengland.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/GenomicsEngland_ScienceWorkingGroup_App2rarediseases.pdf

[7] NHS England Board paper presentation July 2013 http://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/180713-item16.pdf

[8] ICO and HSCIC on anonymous and pseudonymous data in Computing Magazine http://www.computing.co.uk/ctg/news/2337679/ico-says-anonymous-data-not-covered-by-data-protection-act-until-its-de-anonymised

[9] HSCIC Pseudonymisation Review August 2014 http://www.hscic.gov.uk/article/4896/Data-pseudonymisation-review

[10] November 2013 ISCG – political pressure on genomics schedule http://www.england.nhs.uk/iscg/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/01/ISCG-Paper-Ref-ISCG-009-001-ISCG-Meeting-Minutes-and-Actions-26-November-2013-v1.1.pdf

[11] Wellcome Trust August 1st 2014 The Genetic Building Blocks of Future Healthcare

[12] Fenyan – For successful technology reality must take precedence over PR http://jenpersson.com/successful-technology-reality-precedence-public-relations/

[13] Next Steps in the Sequence – the implications for whole genome sequencing in the UK – PHG Foundation, funded by the PHG Foundation, with additional financial support from Illumina. The second expert workshop for the project was supported by the University of Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) and the Wellcome Trust http://www.phgfoundation.org/file/10363

[14] Anti-elderly drugs proposals rejected by NICE: Channel 4 http://www.channel4.com/news/nice-assessment-elderly-health-drugs-rejected-contribution

[15] BBC Newsround: Rosetta spacecraft and the comet chasing

[16] Education committee, December 4th 2013 including Prof. Plomin From 11.09:30 education and social planning  http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=14379

*****

For avoidance of confusion [especially for foreign readership and considering one position is so new], there are two different Ministers mentioned here, both called George:

One. George Osborne [George 1] MP for Tatton, Cheshire and the Chancellor

Two. George Freeman [George 2] MP – The UK’s first-ever Minister for Life Sciences, appointed to this role July 15th 2014 [https://www.gov.uk/government/ministers/parliamentary-under-secretary-of-state–42]

 

*****

Launching genomics, lifeboats, & care.data

On Friday 1st August the media reported the next giant leap in the genomics programme in England, suggesting the 100K Genomics Project news was akin to Kennedy launching the Space Race. [1] [from 2:46.30].

“The UK is set to become the world leader in ground-breaking genetic research into cancer and rare diseases, which will transform how diseases are diagnosed and treated, thanks to a package of investment worth more than £300 million.” [DH press release, August 1 2014. [2] ]

Whilst Mr. Cameron & George Osborne visited the arson-damaged Eastbourne Pier, the lifeboat staff and firemen who attended, back in Downing Street, representatives led by George Freeman MP signed the £300M investment package, the next step in the genomic investment plan, with American Jay Flatley, CEO of Illumina.

Mr. Cameron first announced this research drive shared with commercial pharmaceutical companies on 6th December 2011 and famously said ‘every willing patient should be a research patient'[3] (video) and they would consult to change the NHS Constitution to enable it:

“…with their medical details “opened up” to private healthcare firms, says David Cameron.”

George Freeman_ 100K

This was the next step in the programme, hailed as an historic moment, a giant leap forward for genomics.

The photo call for the symbolic signing included Jay Flatley President, Chief Executive Officer and a member of the Board of Directors of Illumina, Inc, Sir John Chisholm Executive Chair of Genomics England & Chair of Nesta, together with Dame Sally Davies Chief Medical Officer and Mr. George Freeman [George 2] MP for mid-Norfolk, and the newly appointed Life Sciences Minister.

Fewer than twelve months before an election the Government has decided to commit commercially to a US based company, in a programme which Mr.Cameron himself said,  has had controversy. That c-word is one the Conservatives will want to avoid in the coming election campaign.

This Channel 4 [4] film from almost 2 years ago, (December 2012) raises many questions as valid today as then. At that time, in contrast with today’s approach, the programme suggests that consent for research and data use would be assumed for all.

The inestimable Jon Snow asked then, why is the Business Department announcing this [the launch of the pilot programme, when focused then first in rare cancers]? The public may understand that commercial pharma, charities and the State work hand-in-glove (as Mr.Cameron’s 2011 vision stated), but as Jon Snow asks, not yet understand how this commercial venture will benefit the NHS long term as well as individual patients and the public as a whole? Is it concrete on benefits to patients vs benefits to UK plc?

So what was the key press message which came over?

The coverage of the week since August 1st, expounded the belief that through Genomics England Ltd we will do away with  chemotherapy in the future. I believe this should be the source of a raging debate, but it passed by with little more than a few waves.

“We will look back in 20 years’ time and the blockbuster chemotherapy drugs that gave you all those nasty side effects will be a thing of the past,”said Jeremy Farrar Director of the Wellcome Trust, reported Sky. [5]

The original review given last summer to Genomics England including listing the rare diseases which may affect the 6% of the population, suggests one consideration, targeting those with very high likelihood of familial links and therefore success.[6] or Patients selected with a high probability of a single gene disorder. There are obviously great challenges in turnaround time for the genetic processing to be useful in clinical decision making. Considering whether or not it is timely or accurate enough to be of clinical benefit in acute cancer care clinical decision making will be vital. It is also what is being promised to patients who sign up, a faster, more efficient, improved offering on what is available already in the NHS genetic services today.

The interested population and profession would do well to get an independent medical update on the status of this, to understand it better if this is now established and its reliability, so what participants sign up for, is what they get on the tin:

“Results are provided for patients in a timely fashion (e.g. within 8 weeks) and with sufficient clinical accuracy (not yet established for WGS) [whole genome sequencing].” [page 3 of 8]

And what was the press result and public reaction to the news?

As one example, look at lunchtime on Friday August 1st, Radio 2 callers to the Jeremy Vine show. They included two undergoing chemo who felt they had to call  in, to tell others, chemo is not always as bad as it sounds and make sure you don’t give up on it, refuse treatment or wait for this new genetic solution.

The impression was given, there is a new wonder solution within grasp on the horizon. This seemed to me rather reckless and unfairly manipulative on the ill and vulnerable to give them a blanket hope, that their cancer treatment may become so much better, soon. These are real people’s lives, not guinea pigs with which one can feel free to trial hypothesis and hype. If anyone now refuses chemo as a result of the Friday fantasy projections, their health may have been directly impacted. I would like to have heard a DH or Genomics England press manager speaking, not allowing such public free rein, to ensure it was factually accurate. But I’m guessing that Genomics England as an ALB is not really ready for press yet [their public engagement and education programme isn’t ready yet they confirmed when asked in July in an FOI],  and the DH perhaps at arms length, thinks, it’s not their responsibility and outside their remit. Stuck in the middle, we have the commissioning body, NHS England.

How might this involve all of us, our NHS and cross into care.data?

In most recent memory, NHS England tried and so far failed in February 2014, to engage the public and clinicians in the extraction of our GP stored health records, in the care.data initiative. Care.data languishes in some sort of unknown black hole at the moment, with little public engagement and pilots promised ‘for autumn’. Both programmes are run under the auspices of Mr. Kelsey at NHS England Patients and Information Department, and arms length from the Department of Health. Last summer, Tim Kelsey and Sir Bruce Keogh presented a paper to the Board on Genomics and its interaction with NHS patient records. [7]

Given that the Genomics paper indicated that care.data and NHS held patient records were of paramount importance to NHS England I would like to have seen more transparency over this, including informed public and parliamentary debate:

“Issues of data ownership and transparency are of paramount importance to NHS England as set out in the Mandate and given the hugely positive developments in Care.Data. Geraint  Lewis is leading this work, and has begun work to consider how the sequencing data might be held, connected to patient records and subsequently be exploited. It will also look at the connections between this work and the establishment of care data in the NHS. The NHS England data and informatics team will retain oversight of the informatics and data work and discussions continue on how it can best inform and support the implementation of business plan of Genomics England Limited.”

NHS England Board paper, July 2013 [7]

There has been almost no public statement from NHS England on genomics and our data management in the same discussion, until now. George Freeman MP [2] said on BBC Radio 4 (Starting from 2:46.30 in interview with Sarah Montague:

“It’s absolutely not the care.data initiative discussed earlier in the year. This is 100K patients, all volunteering and all providing their consent. It’s completely anonymised data in the data set, the only person who would be able to come back to the patient and make a link with the genomics and the diagnosis, is their doctor. We’re creating a database so that NHS researchers and industry researchers, can look at the broad patterns. 90% of patients with that variation, get that disease, this drug works in 50% of patients…It’s completely anonymised, there is no basis on which you could make the link. The only person who can make the link is the NHS clinician.”

Whilst this is NOT the same initiative, it intends to use some of the same data for those people who actively consent to participate in the 100K Genome Project.

The data will be extracted from care.data [which ‘assumes consent’ or requires active opt OUT, depending how you view it] to include longitudinal, phenotype data across a person’s lifetime. I spoke to the Genomics England media team last autumn, 2013, which confirmed this intent at that time.

The trouble is for Mr. Freeman [2] and these statements, that the public knows ‘anonymous’ in care.data turned out to not be anonymous at all.  ICO and HSCIC [8] are still working this out. [HSCIC has just published its first review of pseudonymisation review 9] It was discovered that far from being released only to clinicians and researchers, our hospital data has been shared with all sort of unexpected third parties, without consent. [see the Partridge Review]. This surprised and shocked many, to public outcry and the resultant loss of trust [15] in the programme has yet to be rebuilt. So some listeners may well and understandably have had concerns that their data may be used for purposes to which they have not agreed.

Some say that genetic data by its very nature, despite stripping data identifiers, cannot be non-identifying, or stay that way:[16]

“It only takes one male,” said Yaniv Erlich, a Whitehead fellow, who led the research team. “With one male, we can find even distant relatives.” [Jan 2013]

“If they choose to share that’s a very admirable thing because by sharing freely, progress for everyone is accelerated, and if someone is not comfortable we should respect that too and find ways for them to still participate in research,” he said.

What are the next steps – or should we expect, one giant leap?

As regards care.data from all,  it is I believe reasonable,  that we should we ask: how we should expect our care.data to be used, and trust for what restricted purposes it will be extracted and stored for the future?  What mechanisms will separate consent for care.data commissioning from this kind of research? How will citizens trust this data sharing now as the Department for Patients and transformation care.data proposals seem still open ended in scope in particular for social care [17], and alongside other ever widening government data sharing? [18] How will the public know where the future boundaries of care.data scope creep lie?

If anything has been learned from care.data to date it must be this: We should  continue to ask for more public involvement in policy and planning,  not just the post-event PR if the state wishes to ensure success and prevent surprises. What happens next for this data programme, and for our national programme of genomics, 100K?

{Part two continues here}

******

[1] “It’s a hugely ambitious project, it’s on a par with the space race how Kennedy launched 40 years ago.” [from 2:46.30 BBC Radio 4 Int. Sarah Montague w/ George Freeman]

[2] Downing Street Press Release 1st August – genomics https://www.gov.uk/government/news/human-genome-uk-to-become-world-numb

[3] 6th December “Transcript of a speech given by Prime Minister at the FT Global Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Conference” [https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-speech-on-life-sciences-and-opening-up-the-nhs]

[4] 10th December 2012 DNA Database concerns Channel 4 http://www.channel4.com/news/dna-cancer-database-plan-prompts-major-concerns

[5] Wellcome Trust- comment by Jeremy Farrar http://news.sky.com/story/1311189/pm-hails-300m-project-to-unlock-power-of-dna

[6] Strategic Priorities in Rare Diseases June 2013 http://www.genomicsengland.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/GenomicsEngland_ScienceWorkingGroup_App2rarediseases.pdf

[7] NHS England Board paper presentation July 2013 http://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/180713-item16.pdf

[8] ICO and HSCIC on anonymous and pseudonymous data in Computing Magazine http://www.computing.co.uk/ctg/news/2337679/ico-says-anonymous-data-not-covered-by-data-protection-act-until-its-de-anonymised

[9] HSCIC Pseudonymisation Review August 2014 http://www.hscic.gov.uk/article/4896/Data-pseudonymisation-review

[10] November 2013 ISCG – political pressure on genomics schedule http://www.england.nhs.uk/iscg/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/01/ISCG-Paper-Ref-ISCG-009-001-ISCG-Meeting-Minutes-and-Actions-26-November-2013-v1.1.pdf

[11] Wellcome Trust August 1st 2014 The Genetic Building Blocks of Future Healthcare

[12] Fenyan – For successful technology reality must take precedence over PR http://jenpersson.com/successful-technology-reality-precedence-public-relations/

[13] Next Steps in the Sequence – the implications for whole genome sequencing in the UK – PHG Foundation, funded by the PHG Foundation, with additional financial support from Illumina. The second expert workshop for the project was supported by the University of Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) and the Wellcome Trust http://www.phgfoundation.org/file/10363

[14] Anti-elderly drugs proposals rejected by NICE: Channel 4 http://www.channel4.com/news/nice-assessment-elderly-health-drugs-rejected-contribution

[15] The Royal Statistical Society identifies a Trust Deficit

 [16] The Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass in the WSJ, Jan 2013: “”It only takes one male,” said Yaniv Erlich, a Whitehead fellow, who led the research team. “With one male, we can find even distant relatives.”
[17] Adult Social care ISCG,  2014 http://www.england.nhs.uk/iscg/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/01/ISCG-Paper-Ref-ISCG-009-002-Adult-Social-Care-Informatics.pdf  “Personalisation – citizens should increasingly be empowered to have choice and control over their care; and there will be increasing numbers of people funding their own care and caring for others”

*****

For avoidance of confusion [especially for foreign readership and considering one position is so new], there are two different Ministers mentioned here, both called George:

One. George Osborne [George 1] MP for Tatton, Cheshire and the Chancellor

Two. George Freeman [George 2] MP – The UK’s first-ever Minister for Life Sciences, appointed to this role July 15th 2014 [https://www.gov.uk/government/ministers/parliamentary-under-secretary-of-state–42]

*****