care.data – Riding the Change Curve

I’ve been inspired by many people this week.

Shakespeare who is long dead. Another, less famous, we celebrated at her funeral after only a few weeks of living with diagnosed endocrine cancer. She would have turned 76 this week.

The change curve

How do we deal with change?

Anyone familiar with the theory of grief, or more happily (as I am from my previous professional life) the similar theory for managing change, knows the stages along the curve we need to go through, to reach a new status quo after a process of adjustment.

After the initial shock and denial, there may be anger, frustration and fear before any acceptance or new optimism is possible.

Individuals follow the curve at their own pace. Some may not go through each stage. Others may simply be too upset, disagree early, give up with or repel the change, and never reach a comfortable position or commitment to a new status quo.

Whether it is grief or a business change, the natural initial response is emotional, and starts with loss. Loss of a person, of position, of something we cannot control. It can take a great deal of support, time and good communication to go through the journey.

(And yes, there’s a comms lesson for care.data in here.)

Before we begin on a change we need to understand the point from where we are starting. And crucially, to understand that Change is about people, not technology or business process.

The change curve starts with shock

From many people’s perspective, the concept of care.data, has been a shock.

For those working on the project, or at NHS England, that is probably hard to understand. ‘Why on earth all the fuss?’, they may ask. It’s easier to understand, if you realise the majority of the public had no idea at all, our health data was used for anything other than our direct care and some planning. Much less may have been winging its way on the cloud across the Atlantic. It feels like data theft.

It’s easy for those in a technology project to see ‘coded’ health records simply as data.

‘Coded’ is however like saying we speak the ‘French language’. Computers ‘only speak’ code, so telling the public it is coded is either trying naively to make it sound safer than as if ‘plain language’ was sent from the GP system to the central system, or it is misleading.

In the same way, if you say ‘opt out’ the system records  ‘9Nu4’ on your record. In addition, there will be a label to go with it, so if GPs run a report to find everyone who has opted out, they can. It’s not hard to understand that MOTDOB is mother’s date of birth. There is a full public dictionary of these codes.

NHS England and the project team, should also not forget that this is not just ‘data’.

To us, this is our irrevocable health and social imprint. Signposts to who we are, have been and perhaps, will be.

It’s personal and private. And as yet, we may have only shared those facts with our GP. Only our GP and not yet our partners, or parents. And then we find out global Health Intelligence companies might have our sexuality or pregnancy history, conditions we may not have told anyone but the GP. Data intermediaries may have complete picture of prescribed medicines, drawing on information from 100,000 suppliers, and on insights from billions of annual healthcare transactions. “mountains of data from pharmacies, insurance claims, medical records, partners and other sources, 17 petabytes of data spread across 5,000 databases.” We want data used by the right people for the right reasons, and know where it goes and why.

HSCIC is giving it away almost for free.

To them it may be only data. To us it’s intimate.

But for the three of us in this marriage, it’s information which has been used and shared with these third parties, and as far as we can see, only one of us really benefits from the deal. Identifiable or not, is only part of the story. It’s our biography we did not give you permission to read or tell.

The initial shock, fears, anxiety and general disgust that our personal details are sold (sorry) given away on a cost recovery basis charging to cover processing and delivering the service, should therefore be more understandable if you realise it was a complete surprise.

(The surprise may or may not be quite as great as the exploding whale posted via Wired at the end of this post. Go on, you know you want to.)

Change is the only constant. How can we progress?

The Change Curve based on the Kübler-Ross Grief model

 

So, what happens now? How can the public move forward, to get to a position of trust and acceptance, that this is what is already happening with our hospital data (HES), and planned to happen with the majority of our GP stored data in future (whether we like the idea or not)?

In order to move us along the curve, NHS England have a large task ahead. In fact, a series of tasks ahead, which are not going to happen overnight. How are change and communications working together?

As there’s no detailed ‘care.data progress’ public communications easy to see on the top level of NHS websites I can only see other info as it comes out through online search alerts. And since it’s my, my children’s and all of us as citizens, whose data that is being discussed here, I think we should be interested and want to find out and question the ongoing status. The GP FAQs have gone or are hard to find, and the patient FAQs are still inaccurate IMO. This page should be top level leading, not six unsearchable clicks down.

From the latest update in the care.data advisory group meeting notes, with much more concrete progress to see, it is good to see that communications features often, and note ‘a comprehensive engagement plan is already underway.’

That plan will be interesting to see mapped out as time goes on, but I do wonder whether it is the right time to be looking at engagement, when so much for the care.data programme remains to be clarified or is undecided?

Questions remain how less raw data can be given away, further legislation, the ‘one strike and out’  how to deal with data breaches, views on enabling small and medium enterprises (SMEs) data access, GP staff opt out understanding, public op out understanding, clarifying the narrative of risks and safeguards. Some steps to be reviewed not until ‘over the summer’. And that’s only a summary of a summary, I am sure only a glimpse of the foam on the top of the wave of what is being done under the surface.

An engagement plan can’t have gaps. Communications is not one-way, that’s PR. So we can only hope there is a real engagement underway of listening which will result in action, but not in ‘transmit mode’. Engagement needs to be concrete to work from day one. We don’t need a sticky plaster and pat on the head, we need fixes and facts to back them up.

Communications and Change

Why can comms not start now and be added to as we go along, you may ask? Whilst it can, and indeed most communications plans need some flexibility, a good Communications Plan needs to ride leashed tightly to the Change Management Plan.  And given that different individuals are each somewhere different on the change curve, at any given point in time, you need to be able to address questions that any of them may have, simultaneously, regardless of whether they have just heard the news, or are almost finished their change journey. For GPs, their staff, other medical professionals, citizens and patients.

Riding the wave of the change curve, some are nearly back on the beach, when others haven’t yet entered the water. Some have got out and will not be persuaded back. Others may.

Therefore until many of the open issues are resolved, until governance and legislation is clear, unless it is focused on listening and resulting action, most communications can only be wasted PR rhetoric. Perhaps there are great plans. But Houston, we don’t have a communications problem. Honestly. As far as I can see.

There is no communications issue, there are issues which need communication.

Why? Because folks who opted out already will not be sold on the benefits. They will only be convinced by a clear picture of known and well governed, legislated, mitigated risks AND benefits. Then they can weigh up a decision. (Assuming indeed, the Secretary of State is a man of his word and maintains the patients’ right to object, which is not a legislative right.)

“The law is a statutory enactment which requires the disclosure of the data, which means the data becomes exempt from the main parts of the DPA.” (ICO)

For the population not reached yet, however, there is a requirement to at least give fair processing, even if you can debate the fineries, all common sense says make the same mistake twice, and you’re sunk.

The trickiest part in the communications, is to address different segments of the population who are at different points in the curve, at the same time. Some of whom are hard to reach.

I am sure there are many people working behind the scenes to bring about this managed change. Let’s not forget, this programme was intended first to launch a year ago. Professionals are working on this, it’s not new. But Dear God, please don’t launch more communications along the same lines as before. September saw GP materials go out with no training and no measure of how well practices had understood the materials. A misleading poster and misdelivered leaflet for patients created more confusion. Which all went out before proper governance, legislation and technical solutions were in place to make it all work well. The advisory group minutes and Mr.Kelsey’s letter indicate there is much work to be done in these areas still. Yet engagement activities are planned May-July.

To look at basics, I think these three things for starters, need resolved before you can talk about risk mediation:

1. a) Purposes of what data is taken and b) who accesses data:  the care.data addendum which sought wider purposes and third party access by think-tanks and information intermediaries is still to resurface, after being returned by the GPES IAG in February for amendment. Which means final data users remain somewhat undefined. And we’re still pending the complete audit of past and current data recipients through the audit overseen by Sir Nick Partridge. [NB: since done in June < see post]

2. Amber is not Green – data protection: Why is potentially identifiable data and what really quite clearly, will be identifiable when so many companies sole purpose is to take a wide range of data sources and mash them together,  given no data protection in law and no clear choice over its use in HES release?

It may for release from HSCIC be treated more carefully than green data only in so far as it is not publicly published on a website,and goes to committee review, but it may be provided to a wide range of commercial companies who then create information from it which they release.

The raw data’s nature can be sensitive to us and it’s certainly personal, so that we would expect it to be kept confidential, and yet it is  shared and may be combined with recipient’s other data sets are at individual patient level?  It feels like a great big whale in the room – it’s not green, we can’t protect it, but if we close our eyes it might go away.

It’s not conducive to trust, when it feels like a con. Just call me Ishmael.

3. Individual data control – opt out and rights: Point 2 leads to a huge potential iceberg ahead which still needs resolved. The UK and upcoming new EU protection laws and their, the ICO and the HSCIC definition of anonymous and pseudonymous data. We must understand how they are to apply and are not only legal, but feel just and fair to us as citizens. It should be looking ahead to meet the coming law now, shaping not avoiding best practices.

What rights does the individual have? How will GPs resolve their conflict of protecting patient confidentiality and complying with the new law requiring them to release it? Some GPs don’t think it’s a good idea.

There will be some citizens who want no data stored centrally at all and even want their HES back out. What will they say to someone who point blank does not want any of their medical record outside their practitioners’ control?

So, are we about to see a repeat of the same communications catastrophe – launching engagement, before we know what exactly what it is we’re talking about? Surely not. But looking at the calendar…

As an outsider, I just wonder how can effective engagement begin, when questions may be asked which cannot be answered?

Workshops to separate truth from myth, risk going down as well as Ahab in Melville’s story, if you have people who are upset, and you have nothing to offer them but unsupported ‘reassurance’. I’d like to see a webpage or presentation of those myths, because I don’t feel I’ve seen many myself. If anything, issues have been debunked by careful wording rather than straight talking.

Change and Trust

Change can’t be done to us without huge resistance. Change has to happen with us, if we are to trust and adopt it. If collectively we get stuck in anger and fear, we’ll not get to acceptance. And it actually has the potential, suggested Ben Goldacre, if not already done, to leave a negative wake on wider research & society.

There has to be trust in the change, that it is for widely acknowledged ‘right’ reasons.

There has to be trust that the terms of the change are defined and stable. Words such as currently, and initially, have little place in the definition of future agreements.

There has to be trust that what we will lose, is in proportion and outweighed by what we’ll gain from the new.

When we read global stories of how healthcare data is misused, and we can’t see who has access to our own data on any real-time rolling basis, it leaves open the fear that data can be given inappropriately, without check and balance, for months. The recently released register is one good thing to come from the debacle so far, and the further audits are ongoing, expected towards mid-May, but any future register is only going to be publicly accurate 4 times a year. It’s better than nothing, but surely not hard to update in real time.

Until the history is entirely transparent, it is a challenge to see how concerns about past use and lack of past governance, and the lack of trust those errors created will be possible to fix. The sensitivity of our raw data is likely only to increase as scope is broadened in future, and the scale of the requests is expected to increase as the era of Health Intelligence takes off and becomes ever more profitable for those third parties. 

Trust will need to increase if anything proportionately, as this scale and sensitivity increases. So any communications of future releases and their governance needs to be sustained. It’s not an afterthought of ‘what we’ve done’. It’s the key to being allowed to carry on doing it.

Change Managers need to understand an individual’s own story, values and what makes them tick, to have an expectation of what the change impact (possibly negative) will be for individuals or groups and what’s in it for them (the positive) and any wider impacts, for example considering the Public Interest. And all leaders, need to have available from the start, the information which will answer the questions for people in each of these groups, at every stage of the curve.

Decisions in the public interest, may be subjective. Jeremy Hunt has said that we,

will “get through” the heated public debate this scheme has caused regarding patient privacy and the potential for the data to be re-identified.”

I’d like to hope we get more than ‘through it.’

To say that, underestimates the task ahead.

It’s not a tunnel or a final destination, but a process.

And the longer the data is shared over our lifetimes, the more likely it will be re-identified with all the other passive and other Big Data which is shared in our future. So there’s no patch, pop up and coast to the beach. I can only think this is a one time chance, and the leadership comments seem to underestimate it.

It must be done correctly now, to set up a framework which will be robust enough for the future size and complexity of the future Big Data vision.

Legislation to build a solid Future foundation

There are still many unknowns it reads from the meetings, from opt out, to wide ranging governance issues, to securing watertight legislation.  The scale and sensitivity of the data and how it has been handled in the past, shows how the current model is not fit for purpose.

This week there is still crucial legislation being considered which will help to fundamentally cement or fail public trust.

Trust not only in how our data will be governed, but in common sense in our governing bodies. The legislation addresses:

  • Retaining control and management of confidential information
  • Putting the independent Information Governance Oversight panel on a statutory footing
  • Independent oversight over certain directions  and the accreditation scheme
etaining control and management of confidential information – See more at: http://www.allysonpollock.com/?p=1820#sthash.No8G7kcT.dpuf
retaining control and management of confidential information – See more at: http://www.allysonpollock.com/?p=1820#sthash.No8G7kcT.dpuf

I’m no legal beagle, but it appears to make excellent sense and the detailed wording (via Prof. Alison Pollock’s page)  is very straightforward.

I hope it is clear that patient choice and public interest complement one another in these proposals. Just as Dr. Mark Taylor, Chair of CAG, outlined in an excellent essay,

“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.”

If the Lords support Life Sciences’ interests, as many in the chamber do, they will need to support the proposals in order to ensure the public remain opted in to care.data.

Without these governance amendments, many more will opt out I am certain from talking to people on the street, and the value of the population-wide database will be undermined. So, the theory on paper next week, will have a crucial role in the practical outcome of the care.data implementation and its lifetime value.

No one said, change is easy

Importantly, in any theory one does well to remember the practical reality. Each response is unique to an individual. No one model will fit all. Each person commences the journey of a changing situation, from a different starting point. We each begin the process from a different level of baseline knowledge. We each have our own ways of dealing with loss, and experience different levels of anger or fear. There are early and late adopters.

Some things are difficult, but have to be gone through. For me, Tuesday was a day of looking back at wonderful memories.

We also sometimes need to accept what cannot be changed. When the time comes, I support the idea that we can live with a disease and dignity, not just the label that we are ‘dying’.

My final inspiration of the week, Kate Granger articulated this, so much better than I could, last week:

“I cannot imagine a human society free from cancer, no matter how much money we invest. As a cancer patient who will die in the relatively near future, I believe rather that instead of reaching for the traditional battle language, [life] is about living as well as possible, coping, acceptance, gentle positivity, setting short-term, achievable goals, and drawing on support from those closest to you.”

 

care.data requires courage from all the parties involved, because everyone is going through a certain process of change and compromise. Even those who planned the now delayed launch, need to recognise a need for change and why we’ve got to put a solid, not rushed foundation in now, and be in it for the long haul to get it right.

With lasting legislative powers, we public can better entrust our faith and data to the system, not just today, but into the future. With a proper independent Governance and oversight process we can hand you our trust for safekeeping with our records in good faith. We can only trust these proposed changes make not just waves, but make real progress.

If nothing really substantial changes in the pause, and we don’t see increased measures to create trust, all that will happen is a build up of frustration and pressure of all the people who can’t move forward from the initial anger and confusion. They will opt out. And there’s a risk public opinion will burst under pressure. No one will want to support health record sharing for any purposes, even bona fide good research, and there will be an explosion of opt outs. Projects will be abandoned, like a dead, washed up whale. (Which you really don’t want to happen. Really. It’s not pretty viewing, don’t say I didn’t warn you. But it’s kind of fascinating too and all the number crunching too.)

This can be avoided.

But plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Two months into the pause, are we seeing changes taking effect, or more of the same talk?

I look forward to better information on how and where our data has gone in the past. I think only after that will it be possible to get the history aired and resolved for improved future procedures once we have the complete audit picture, including that under Sir Nicholas Partridge, due towards the end of this month.

The further governance and independent oversight issues will be best resolved in legislation, which would help them be free of political change and create a framework worthy of the big data vision for the future.

In Summary

I hope the Change Management is as carefully thought out as communications and engagement is based on substantive steps before it.

These steps simply, start with:

1. a) Tighten and define clearly the purposes of what data is taken and b) who accesses data. Now and for future change.

2. Amber is not Green – data protection: Tighten what is potentially identifiable data and what really quite clearly, will be identifiable when so many companies sole purpose is to take a wide range of data sources and mash them together.

3. Individual data control – opt out, and legal rights. Will opt out get a statutory footing rather than Mr.Hunt’s word? Will we design now, for change in the UK and upcoming new EU protection laws?

Tighten the processes, define more of the facts, so you know what you’re communicating.  Let people ask questions, and let us have sufficient time to go through the curve.

A rushed rollout, will create more people who block the change, opt out, and never return.

I realise much of this post addresses how I feel, and the feelings I have picked up from care.data events, from others discussing it on the street and school playground. Emotions have a role to play in this discussion, but better facts will go a long way to making objective informed decisions. And crucially, our decision making must be allowed to be objective and free from emotional coercion.

I’m cautiously optimistic and look forward to seeing public materials to get the GP profession and public on board and riding the care.data change curve each at their own pace. There is clearly a tonne of work to be done. It’s not going to be glassy, by any stretch of the imagination, but perhaps we need a few rough times to remind us what matters most to us, and why.

It makes us engage.

The question is, in the coming weeks and months, is NHS England prepared for genuine change and engagement with the public, not just PR?

Flagship care.data – precious cargo [1] & commercial uses in theory

“The challenge is that if many users of data are intermediaries with re-use licences and even the HSCIC doesn’t know who all the end users are, how on earth can anyone judge how they will be for purposes of ‘improving NHS care’?”

Commercial and third party use is one of the most damaging aspects of the rollout which is wrecking the care.data programme.

I’ve cut my opinion on this care.data topic into two parts, theory and practice, to address the outcomes of the LMC conf of yesterday from a patient POV. From my lay perspective, the result of the debate and votes was partly due to the failure to shore up the policy theory around commercial uses to make any perceivable improvement to trust for the future. And partly based on proven failures in practice to protect our data in the past. Failures around commercial use of care.data in theory and practice.

The theme of making money, is a recurring topic for women in literature, and graced or should I say, grubbied  our screens in recent weeks in the adaptation of Dame Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn.

Mary Yellan, orphaned and without means, seeks the only family she has and lands among the smugglers and muddy marsh of the Cornish moors. It’s not only set against a backdrop  of smuggling, but wrecking. The heroine struggles between moral conflict and practical necessity, whether to join in their activities, against her ethical principles.  She gets used to it but ultimately can’t live with it.

Given that the real inn is in the middle of a very bleak moor, with no outlook except the rough shorn grass, you need to really see unmet potential to want to be its new owner. For that, you need to see strong commercial opportunities or be a committed hard core Du Maurier fan. Or both.

So it can appear, from a patient point of view on care.data. Either the driving parties promoting the release of patient data see unmet potential [1] which needs commercial harnessing [1b], have direct commercial interests[1c], or they have another personal interest in its extraction and access. Or perhaps they are just hard core fans of data sharing, to the point that we should support mashing our health data up with commercial retail loyalty cards as Mr. Tim Kelsey suggested in November 2013 at Strata [from 16:00] [2].

Are the same people and organisations driving the programme and calling for ‘data for patients’ not also the same who will benefit most from having access to the data? The measurable benefits to us patients remain unclear, at best. The cost, our confidentiality and GP trust, is however clearly non-refundable. Consent, the age old pillar of medical ethics is to be waived aside. The LMC Conf obviously see value in protecting confidentiality at source if it cannot be guaranteed by others, whether the HSCIC or the data users.

Who will all the end users of our data be? They remain somewhat undefined, because the care.data addendum including Think Tanks, commercial companies and information intermediaries was not approved [3] and because future users are undefined in social care, for example. Future scope will entail additional future users. But then perhaps this should not surprise us that NHS England and the HSCIC expect us to acquiesce to this fair processing failure although we don’t yet know all the future end users, because Sir Kingsley Manning admitted that HSCIC does not know who all the current end users are either (Q272) [4a] at the  Health Select Committee hearing. So, were the GPs at LMC Conf just expected to trust ‘on spec’ to whom their approval of care.data would entitle its sharing?

Information intermediaries in particular, seem to still be on the key stakeholders list[5] in January 2014. But only a year ago, in April 2013, The ‘Health and Social Care Transparency Panel’ discussion on sharing patient data with information intermediaries clearly stated there was no legitimate or statutory basis to share at least ONS data with them. [6]

“The issues of finding a legitimate basis for sharing ONS death data with information intermediaries for commercial purposes had been a long running problem. A number of possible approaches had been considered but advice from the relevant Government legal teams was that there did not appear to be a statutory basis for doing so. The panel identified this as a significant barrier to developing a vibrant market of information intermediaries (IIs). It also limited the ability of IIs to support NHS organisations with business intelligence to evaluate and benchmark the quality of their services.

It was agreed that this issue needed to be resolved, and if necessary changes to the relevant legislation should be considered. ” 

I would love to know whether the law changed in the last year, how was the issue resolved, or has HSCIC and have we just through use, acknowledged that this sharing with intermediaries is acceptable and legal? The meeting later in July should have given clarity, but I can’t see minutes beyond April. They are no doubt somewhere, and someone cleverer than me, can help find them and clarify how the decision was reached I expect. I did find notes in the recent HSCIC audit of past data releases [4b], that ONS data was granted under existing law after all:

“The ONS data are supplied under the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 section 42(4) as amended by s287 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, for the purpose of assisting the Secretary of State for Health, or the Welsh Ministers, in the performance of his, or their functions in relation to the health service.”

Since the Health and Social Care Act revoked the Secretary of State’s duty of care to provide a national health service, I wonder what functions it relates to as pertains to third party intermediaries? The ONS application form is detailed but no more enlightening for commercial intermediary use. I can’t help feeling we’re seeking justifications rather than good cause as the starting point for widening data releases. That we are starting to accept that our hospital records have been shared without our consent and sold. (Let’s give up the recouping costs word play, call a spade a spade. Data and cash change hands.). ‘What can we do about it anyway? we may well ask. As time has gone on in the care.data debacle, and in the three months since the delay, it appears from the leadership comments of NHS England from Mr. Kelsey in Pulse that, we’re not to worry, “now we are working to make care.data safe.” [free registration required] Still no one has said, we made a mistake of its handling in the past.

This acknowledgement however that work needs done to make the data safe, underlines exactly what so many saw months ago including the GPES advisory group which had concerns [17] in Sept 2013 on commercial uses and its communication, governance and patient trust. Care.data was launched regardless. Now it’s grounded.  What has improved since then? What remains to fix?

How well exactly did HES storage and sharing work so far, with breaches identified as well as the basic legal fair processing failing to inform us of its extraction? What has been done to prevent it happening again? I have seen no concrete steps which give me faith the past flaws have been fixed enough to now trust it in future.

In February, before the pause Jeremy Taylor of National Voices wrote a very sound 12 point plan of what needed to change.  Since then, what has actually  changed [7] as far as I can see, is only the introduction of a delay, and that his words were listened to, that there should be no artificial deadline:

‘”the timescale for launching Care.Data was entirely artificial, as is the six month “pause”.

Three months into the delay, nothing of substance other than agreeing there is no artificial deadline, appears to have changed.

The most significant past let downs have all been commercial or third party uses. OmegaSolver, Beacon Dodsworth, PA ConsultingEarthware.

The Care Bill amendment touted as a change in the legal protection of our care.data, does not block commercial Third party intermediaries sharing care.datauses of our data, only stating that it should be used ‘for the promotion of health’ which is open to all sorts of interpretation. Not least I imagine, those similar to ‘fight against obesity’ campaigns by marketing masters of commercialism.

So with little transparent change on policy, since we have become aware of data breaches, misuse and patient anger about commercial use, it should come therefore as no surprise that the BMA Local Medical Committees (LMCs) yesterday voted to state a preference for opt in not opt out, pseudo or anonymisation at source and insists that care.data should only be used for its stated purpose of improving health care delivery, and not sold for profit.

Simply: the public don’t trust that our identifiable data is protected and we object to all our data being traded commercially.

This is in direct conflict with HSCICs stated purpose in the HSCIC 2013-15 roadmap [8]:

“Help stimulate the market through dynamic relationships with commercial organisations, especially those who expect to use its data and outputs to design new information-based services.”

And in statements by both Sir Manning at the Health Select Committee and Dr. Geraint Lewis [9]:

…”we think it would be wrong to exclude private companies simply on ideological grounds; instead, the test should be how the company wants to use the data to improve NHS care. And, as Polly Toynbee put it, if “it aids economic growth too, that’s to the good.”

The challenge is that if many users of data are intermediaries with re-use licences and we don’t even know who all the end users are, how on earth can the HSCIC judge how they will benefit ‘improving NHS care’?

As regards economic growth, if the aim is to give away data for free, as Mr. Kelsey told the September 13th NHS England board (from 26:10)[10], how is the NHS to make profit from it? It’s not. Commercial companies are to buy at prices only to help HSCIC recoup costs [11], so that is not technically opposed in wording to ‘ not making a profit.’ Citizens, GPs and others can be aligned with that on paper. But not in spirit. For now commercial companies profit from our state funded records, paid for by NHS DoH money.  They profit intermediaries with re-use licences beyond which we have no visibility or control of where our data goes or why. And the fact that the wider profiting third parties from the whole scheme,  ATOS paid zero tax in the UK in 2012,[12] really grates. How does the cash given to ATOS benefit economic growth in the country?

Therefore, for the LMCs to have voted now any differently, would have expected them be soothsayers, knowing that the care.data work-in-progress and any future changes will make both the future scope purposes and future users clearly defined, in order to fulfil their duty as data controller, ensuring patients have a reasonable expectation of how their data will be used. It asks GPs to betray their age old fundamental principle of medicine, to betray patient confidentiality, for commissioning. They are being told to betray the good ethics of consent.  They are being asked to betray patients’ trust and even to use that trust to ‘sell’ the idea in which they may not believe.

And care.data current processes betray the best practices of data collection – seek to collect the minimum data required, for a specific purpose and delete it when that is completed.

“Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes’ consistent with the Data Protection Act principle 5. [13]

Instead HSCIC’s remit over the coming years of care.data is to fill in all the remaining gaps with any health and social care information not already collected [14], and keep it linkable from cradle to grave – or even from “germ to worm” for everyone with an NHS number in England. Purposes are non-specific and unlimited because they’ll change over time and the end users are not all defined for it plans to be opened up increasingly widely for use in social care and we don’t know what else.

caredatatimeline

 

In my lay view, the BMA LCs had no choice in the interests of their patients but to call for a rejection of assumed consent and commercial uses. The two do not go together. Opt out for uses of our data purely for NHS care and its planning would be much more palatable. But add in commercial uses, which is what has both been the main source of patient objection and data breaches, and it’s a deal breaker.

They can’t stake their support and reputation on a best guess of what might be. They can only base their judgement on what they know now. And no one supports care.data exactly as she is right now, which is why it is postponed and work in progress. Shore up trust, governance and axe these commercial uses and perhaps an assumed consent would seem more palatable. For example, Cross border governance needs documented when the application form gives non UK options. Scope and users need defined to ensure proper fair processing to meet DPA ICO requirements [16]. But so far, nothing has visibly changed.

It’s no different from when Ben Goldacre was telling us public trust cannot be easily regained and it broke his heart [15]. I know why, there are expected benefits to public research amongst others to access primary care data more than they already have in CPRD or pseudonymous data in QResearch and others, but we need to act based on today’s approved uses for care.data, not what might be remain in an undefined future. Right now, we’ve seen no changes of substance since the delay was announced.

NHS England can’t therefore genuinely expect to see a shift in trust in citizens or GPs based on nothing more than lines in the sand.

I believe GPs at the LMC Conf took the best decisions they could with the programme in its current form, with knowledge of past problems and lack of future clarity over scope and users.

They voted for how they feel best protects, respects and empowers their patients.

If our current Data Controllers and  guardians of confidentiality don’t stand up for patients to get the build of the infrastructure right before they agree to release our data to fill it, who will? The question will be whether the Secretary of State and NHS England will force their legal right of extraction through regardless, or will respect the medical profession’s representatives and the rights of citizens they care for?

There is an opportunity to fix things. The LMC Conf after all have no legal efficacy, they stated their opinion and stance which commands respect and attention. Flagship care.data is not washed up, yet. But it can’t sail without addressing governance and professional support. Commercial exploitation and assumed opt in are not going to work comfortably together. Transparency of who has access to what data for what purposes and how it is released needs sharpened up. And regardless of whether opt in ever comes onto the table or not, if care.data keeps her strongly  commercial heading many, many more will jump ship to opt out. The damage of bias will be done, either way.

She needs some new directions, helmsmanship that we trust and sound repairs.

********

If you have missed the background to this saga, I’d recommend the Julia Powles article in WIRED – what to save when the care.data ship goes down.

I’m going to look at some more of the commercial uses of care.data in practice another time. And clarify the communication of the opt out codes and why research purposes is a misnomer in the GP patient record sharing part of care.data purposes – it’s not (yet at least) an approved use.

********

[1] MOU between AstraZeneca and the HSCIC, December 2012

[1b]  ABPI Vision for harnessing Real World Data 2011

[1c] Hansard, Nov 2010 George Freeman ‘I know from my own experience that we are sitting on billions of pounds-worth of patient data. Let us think about how we can unlock the value of those data around the world.’

[2] Strata November 2013, Tim Kelsey keynote ‘mash it up with other data sources to get their local retailers to tell them about their purchasing habits so they can mash that up with their health data’

[3] care.data addendum Sept 2013

[4] Written Hansard of the Health Select Committee , 8th April

[4b] The HSCIC data release register issued on April 3rd 2013

[5] Oversight panel with input from Dame Fiona Caldicott, January 2014, with stakeholders’ list

[6] Health and Social Care Transparency Overview Panel April 2013

[7] National Voices – Jeremy Taylor, an excellent overview of 12 points which needed fixed from February 2014

[8] HSCIC 2013-15 Roadmap

[9] NHS England comments by Dr.Lewis on commercial principle

[10] September 13th 2013, care.data directions approved by the NHS England Board – care.data from 25:40 – 39:00 – note identifiable, not anonymous data is extracted and stored with the DLES at HSCIC, and GP objections to date on care.data opt-in seem not to have been respected in contrast to the claim ‘GPs make a decision’ from 31:00. There is to date, no communicated way to prevent HES data extraction and its sharing in pseudonymous form.

[11] The HSCIC Data Linkage price list

[12] The Independent, November 2013 Atos & G4 pay no corporation tax in 2012, National Audit Office stats via Adam Withnall, The Independent

[13] Data Protection Standards – retention, principle 5

[14] care.data programme overview April 2013

[15] the Guardian, 28th February 2014 – care.data is in chaos – Ben Goldacre

[16] Blog from the Information Commissioner’s Office on care.data Data Protection and Fair processing

[17]The GPES Advisory Group meeting minutes Sept 12th 2013

{updated 28th May – looks like past uses of our health data are now also under scrutiny by ICO which is investigating claims that insurers have accessed full medical records using subject access requests.}

By theamateurbookblogger@googlemail.com

Deeds not Words – Women’s Political and Electoral Engagement

Suffragette
ca 1920 first US election to offer women the right to vote

“A hundred years on, would those suffragist women feel it was worth their collective effort and what it cost them as individuals?”

One hundred years ago today, protestors gathered outside Buckingham Palace under the banner of ‘Votes for Women‘. It was barely a year since the death of Emily Wilding-Davison at the Derby in June, 1913. Possibly the best known of the women who had campaigned in the suffragist movement (1), made famous after she died from her injuries after being trampled by the King’s horse Anmer at Tattenham Corner (2). There is still debate whether it was suicide or accidental.

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage (the NUWSS) had failed through peaceful means to reach their goal despite having the support of men and members’ bills in Parliament. The Sufragette group, the WSPU, were less patient.

Under the slogan ‘Deeds not Words’, the anniversary of Emily Wilding Davison’s death last summer triggered a spate of features. There was an excellent historical account delivered in Parliament, by Dr. Mari Takayanagi (4), which includes how the movement and ‘votes for women’ and first female MPs appeared to have made a difference in Parliament.

“There was a raft of legislation passed throughout the 1920s on issues that affected women’s lives and gender equality – including things like the Sex Disqualification Removal Act which allowed women to practice as lawyers, to enter professions like accountancy and become vets and so on for the first time. There were acts about things like pensions; there were acts allowing women to inherit property; there were acts about things like the age of consent and the sale of alcohol to young people. The list goes on and on.

And none of this kind of thing was passed before the First World War and you’ve got to think it’s because women are part of the electorate now and the male MPs had to sit up and take notice of their views as they hadn’t before.”

However, what has been done since the anniversary to address the importance and relevance of women’s votes today and to encourage electoral engagement before these European and local elections on May 22nd 2014?

A hundred years on, would those suffragist women feel it was worth their collective effort (3) and what it cost them as individuals?

In 2013 my local election saw the Conservative candidate win only 231 votes ahead of UKIP – both candidates attaining over 1000 votes, in a turnout of barely 32%. I spoke to her and others, after that vote, on the subjects of women in politics and the continued importance of women’s rights and activism.

Pat Arculus, is our Conservative County Councillor and an Adult Safeguarding Champion. She said,

“It’s a funny game politics, how can we change it? I’ve just been watching Question Time. They’re arguing about the Health Service. You watch it and think, how is this relevant? Why don’t they just get together and sort it out? I think that may be it, women just want to get things done. You run a family, you have a problem, you sort it out and get on. You don’t spend hours arguing about it. Perhaps that’s what puts women off politics.”

Women today in the UK get to participate in the democratic process thanks at least in part, to the efforts and commitment of those women, not so many generations ago  But do women today see the need for their active participation? According to Mrs. Arculus, her recent experience of electoral engagement is poor.

“There is a complete disaffection. It’s not even apathy. It’s “we don’t like politics”, “it doesn’t make any difference,” and “it doesn’t matter who we vote for.” If our young people hear that, then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I was delivering leaflets and teenagers in the garden, I don’t know if they were of voting age, said, “no no take it back, we don’t vote for them.” I was shocked. As a mother it’s not my place to tell them who to vote for. I’d say to young people, read everything, read them all and make your own mind up. If you go into schools and they run mock elections, they are more active than we give them credit for. They seem to lose it, when they get older and don’t see any point.”

But this comment from a year ago, is what we must encourage the major parties pay attention to now, for the 2015 General election:

“In the last election, my majority fell from 2,800 to 220 and that all went to UKIP. So the public are feeling angry, about something.”

Emily Davison, with a first class degree in English as a man, could have walked into many jobs. In her time, with the equivalent as a woman, she was unable to participate in various circles, and found work as a governess and then, as a result of her activism, was sacked.

The issues of equal employment rights, pay and the role of women in childcare and the home are as current today as they were then. We should not take women’s rights to vote here, or in non-UK locations for granted even in countries we may not expect it. Switzerland granted women the vote only in 1971, and it wasn’t until the 90s in some municipalities. And it is easy to forget that full Parliamentary equality in the UK was not achieved until the Peerages Act of 1963.

Women as MPs, mothers, as managers, all as ordinary citizens need to stay as alert as ever to the equality of rights we have come to expect as the norm, to preserve them and to pass on their worth and relevance to our children. Men need to as well, just as importantly.

Rosamund McNeil, Head of Education and Equality at the NUT told me,

“Sometimes it is taken for granted that women today can have public roles, a life outside the home and can speak for themselves. The suffragettes must be celebrated because it reminds us that change and progress is hard won, and that gains for women must be guarded and not reversed. By looking back, it can generate creativity about how to take forward the debate on women’s inequality. I think their stories can inspire young women today to take control of their lives, to make their voices heard and to defy the stereotypes that remain about what women should say, think and do.”

So are the voices of our young women being included and heard in the current election? The suffragist women campaigned with passion for enfranchisement, for the right to vote and to have woman’s voices heard. One may say today,  to become empowered.

There is a feeling about voting today, that it has lost its power.  Not just for women. As exemplified in Pat Arculus’s story, the feeling that whoever we vote for makes no difference, it’s all the same anyway. Talking to people on the street this week about the European Election on May 22nd, I heard the same things.

Worryingly for me, I’ve found there is an undercurrent of nervous excitement when someone mentions UKIP. In our exchanges in the street, whilst out campaigning to encourage voting participation (of any party) on the European Election, there was a spark in the conversation. People talk openly between each other, of a shake up, of change. Men I spoke with seem quite unconcerned with racism or policy, almost as if acknowledging that there’s a touch of racism and misogyny in all of us, just the ‘real politicians’ are too plastic to let it show. A few men brushed aside hard questions, with a hand flutter of bravado. You get the feeling, there’s almost a hint of ‘at least he’s himself, flaws and all.’

Our respected elder statesmen, have for the most part, left the House of Commons.  We hear staged soundbites and laugh at PR gaffes. But is this to the detriment of politics seeming real? Has spin created an image of politics so worried about what it looks like in the press (5), that to the people it looks like nothing we can connect with or trust? So afraid of making a mistake, that can be exploited by the other side, that the leaders have forgotton who they really are at heart and why we should trust in them?

I feel it is this, which women in England feel disaffected by, why politics seems like a man’s game. But both men and women appear to feel disenfranchised, that mainstream parties are too similar, and anyway, ‘they’re all politicians’. 72% of adults surveyed by Ipsos Mori last June felt in general MPs could not be trusted to tell the truth (10). We don’t trust most politicians, we can’t be bothered with all the game playing and word play behind ceremony and late night debates with party political point scoring. We’ve too much else to do with family, work, volunteering and caring, and everything else women take on and juggle. That’s the impression and sentiments I have been given listening on the street to the middle aged and younger voters.

The risk is, through lack of political involvement we disempower our voice. It is even harder to influence politics from outside. The broader risk is, we also see women falling away from the polling booths as was reflected in some of the women I spoke to this week, who either weren’t aware of the election or did not plan to vote on May 22nd. Political apathy leads to electoral apathy as well.

We also risk passing on that disinterest and lack of knowledge to our children.  As one 17 year old girl told me when I asked how they would feel about voting in the next General Election,

“I don’t know anything about it. I don’t think it matters what you vote for, so I don’t think I would. I thought Tony Blair was Prime Minister till someone told me last week he’d changed.”

Her friend added,

“It’s quite exciting though. Seeing as we would be allowed to (vote) for the first time.”

I’d like to think that spark of excitement, could be spread, and underpinned by some conscious thought, to make a difference in the future. But surrounded by friends or family who are apathetic, without encouragement, it is likely to be put out.

Women who choose not to vote run the risk that we will enable men with the hints of the Farage to become empowered through our inaction.  I’m not saying all men, and all women, revealed this split in  tendencies by any means. Or that support of any party is gender based. But it was a noticeable enough trend in a spread of white, middle class Sussex adults whom I spoke with this week.

As it appears manstream parties which have become ever closer together are not representing the views of many people and are not to be trusted, people are looking at the outer wings of the political spectrum, and looking to people who may be imperfect, but look and sound real.

Overall, people just want a decent life in which people get on, are safe, thrive and look out for one another. Most people, like society to be inclusive. That’s what I picked up in a the majority of opinions. But they don’t appear to believe that common sensed approach is well enough represented in politics. Because party politics skews it.

Just talking to people, it appears a common thread that when it feels that manifestos are meaningless especially in coalition (6), people fail to trust them and the parties who propose them. Unable to be convinced by policies, they are instead attracted to people they believe in. We need people with whom the disenchanted can connect in a sensible way without having to reach out to the extreme margins of politics. We need policies and politicians we can trust. We need genuine, passionate people we can believe in.

We need to see that there is value in our vote and see a need to use it wisely.

As the Rt Hon the Baroness D’Souza reiterated in a presentation (7) last autumn,

“political engagement is not a luxury which can be tacked on to society, once it is sufficiently developed. It is a basic human right which affects our lives and livelihoods.”

You could argue that where people’s priorities are simply subsistence and survival, political empowerment is low on their agenda. Standing up for political and electoral involvement should not be a luxury in the UK, where we might believe developmental barriers do not stand in our way to political engagement. But there are many families and individuals in this country for whom economic security or access to further education are not a given.  Government policies which undermine  either for any parts of society, risk not only harming parity of esteem, but risk undermining the opportunities for full & equal access to involvement in political engagement,  which undermines basic democracy.

The electoral commission, identified (8) that those suffering from social deprivation tend to also be the most politically excluded in society and political disengagement can itself be a form of social exclusion.

A basic lack of trust in our elected representatives, is a sad state of affairs. Combined with a lack of knowledge,  a cynicism about politics is shaping politics in ways which mainstream parties should be taking seriously and acting upon.

According to an Ipsos MORI poll in December 2013, 77% of adults asked agree that they know less about the issues in a European Parliamentary Election than at a General Election. (9)

Public cynicism with politics is nothing new, but it looks like it has become entrenched.  Disenchantment with politicians is shared across supporters of all parties – but is noticeably higher among UKIP voters, who seem most unhappy with the current political scene.” (Ipsos MORI 10)

It might not be sweet in reality to become actively, politically  involved, like Disney’s Mrs. Banks would have us believe of the suffragettes, but we need to remember their ‘Deeds not Words’ of the past. We need to remember why it is still necessary today. And we need to encourage our friends, family and daughters to remember Emily and all the ordinary women who made a difference, so that we may have the choice to vote as a right, one which they had to fight for.

No matter how disenchanted we feel, we are no longer  disenfranchised unless by choice. Women, get out and vote.  Get electorally involved at least. Remember what others sacrificed for us to be able to do so. Well done  sister suffragette!

If the majority of the population don’t vote, we shouldn’t be surprised if the collective majority opinion, is less represented than it should be. That allows the extreme views, over representation.

We need our collective engagement just as much today, as a hundred years ago.

____

Refs:

1. Votes for Women Open lecture slides by Dr. Mari Takayanagi

2. British Pathe – Emily Davison and the Derby

3. BBC bitesize history of the Suffrage movement

4. Dr. Mari Takayanagi full lecture notes

5. Rebranding ed Miliband – The Guardian April 2nd 2014,  Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Michael White, Lauren Cochrane, Lance Price and David Schneider

6. Defending the Coalition will cost the Lib Dems letter from Social Liberal Forum, August 2013

7. Towards Political engagement for women Rt Hon the Baroness D’Souza presentation Nov 2013, Parliament Week 2013

8. Social exclusion and political engagement Research report by the Electoral Commission – Nov 2005

9. Ipsos MORI December 2013 poll. Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,286 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain.

10. Ipsos MORI 2013 Trust in MPs poll, Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,023 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.

 

 

 

 

care.data – the 4th circle

commedia“Will it become a productive process putting patients’ choice and empowerment first, or is it all talk, hurling stones at one another, going round in circles and building nothing?”

Since The Lords voted to reject proposed amendments last week, to legislation which would have emphasised patient empowerment in the programme and shored up trust, I feel a little in limbo.

As patients of the NHS in recent times, we have been bombarded with the language of patient choice, personalised care and patient empowerment. Putting patients first.

But what power or choice do we patients really have in the use of our health data?

It seems that increasingly media articles, meeting minutes and speeches talk of power and patient empowerment, but it feels like in reality we have less and less.

So too we hear repeated how ‘powerful’ our health data is. How the power of data and its management is used, how the concomitant language is used, misused and shared with others, influences decision making around the subject and our patient rights.

All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not of truth. – Friedrich Nietzsche

As a Germanist at university, interpreting Nietzsche was both a cause for celebration and a cause of much gnashing of teeth. Having also studied Italian, I’m mixing my Dante in there, apologies.

The gnashing of teeth, biblical in origin, was reserved by Dante for the fourth circle of Hell, in his most famous work of his trilogy, the Divine Comedy. The fourth circle was the realm of money. It contained two opposite groups, the avaricious and the squanderers. The bridge builders and the destroyers.

Both the hoarders and the wasters are obsessed with development, either promoting it, or stopping it at all costs. And their punishment is to go round in circles, labouring against each other with heavy rocks, from opposing sides for eternity.

My background is in making technology functional for users to make their work easier. Systems only work which  have a proven benefit for the stakeholders. Introducing new systems is not about technology, but about people. If people don’t want to use your system, you can’t make them. They will find a workaround or data quality will be so poor as to make it worthless. Any project with opposing sides, will have some degree of argument and failure for one or more parties. It’s not what working together, should be about.

When I heard the Lords debate, two things struck me.

The first, whilst different arguments were debated they were really not opposed to one another, but trying to find the best way of achieving the project aims. The vast majority were common sensed and aligned. Wellcome and the AMRC support the legislative shoring up of trust. The biggest difference was that citizens’ trust and empowerment were supported better by the amendments, yet the vote went the other way.

The second thing which struck me, was how the language used can sway what we believe. We only believe what we want to believe, after all.

Labelling data as anonymous or de-identified when what is meant is pseudonymous, and mixing in ‘Open Data’ when ‘shared data’, is meant, is not the same thing at all. And it’s very misleading.

The Lords ‘ping pong’ last week again misrepresented, I feel, the weight that anonymous data sharing should have in the debate.

Earl Howe said;

“I stress this point in particular, as I understand that it has been the subject of some confusion. There is already a strong legal framework protecting the confidential and identifiable data held in people’s health and care records, not just the information held by the HSCIC but more generally. The Data Protection Act, which implements the EU data protection directive into UK law, provides powerful protection of information about living individuals. To summarise what is a lengthy and complex provision, it requires all such data to be anonymised except where there is good reason to the contrary. It remains the case that the Data Protection Act continues to offer strong protection of personal data…”

The fact he wants to make such efforts to ‘stress this point in particular’ does not fill me with faith in the system. In fact, I’ll be honest, I feel that on this point he was factually misleading.

Firstly, in terms of extraction.

The default position is to extract fully identifiable and personal data unless individuals object. PCD will leave the practice for all patients, where there is a legal basis i.e. under the HSCA 2012 or Section 251 approval.

So for Earl Howe to focus on anonymous use, detracts from the fact that it is not anonymous upon extraction at all and may be used and is used with identifiers, far more widely than patients might expect once processed. And will be by default, unless people activley opt out.

Misuse and inappropriate levels of risk exposure are made less transparent by the wording of what type of data it is.

Time and time again, even in the Lords last week, I am frustrated to hear inappropriate use of terminology which perpetuates misunderstanding.

We need to be very clear what  differences there are between data sharing and Open Data. Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt addressed these differences and the release of Open Data at this conference on March 20th 2014. He importantly makes the distinction that the reusable open-to-use-by-anyone data of Open Data definition, is separate from most uses of personal data, even in the current ‘grab’ going on. [his words]

The Open Data movement is not trying to liberate and put out all our personal data.  He sees personal data, fully and properly anonymised, with consent,  will play a role. But we need to understand different ways of handling the different types of data.

Governmental legal guidance in 2010 did not have the interpretation we have been given today of amber, pseudonymous data. In this file you’ll see it’s personal (red) or it’s not (therefore fully anonymous). But it is clearly noted that anything which is not fully anonymous, i.e. what may identify individuals (what HSCIC labels Amber), should be treated no differently from red data.

“If the data to be shared is fully anonymised, then it will be less likely for problems should arise, though consideration still has to be given to the principles in the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). If the data required for statistical purposes contains information which may identify individuals (personal data), then the sharing should be approached in the same way as for any other circumstances, as explained in this guidance.”

I have no idea by whom and for whom it was written, but they state they consulted ICO.

We need to be clear, this is important both for public and parliamentary perception to make informed choices and inform the parliamentary care.data and wider data sharing debate.

In Parliament yesterday, Chi Onwurah MP (14 May 2014 : Column 848) said with regard to the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 – my bold:

It is therefore deeply troubling that the Government have tabled a last-minute new clause to the Bill to authorise data sharing among the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and persons providing services to them when it comes to apprenticeships. This may be both necessary and useful—the actual data to be shared may be entirely harmless—but it should be done transparently, with the right safeguards and accountability in place, and it should be done as part of a coherent strategy. This is clearly not the case here. The “person providing services” could be anyone, from individual consultants to big multinational companies.

We therefore tabled amendment (a) to ask what information was being shared, with whom, by what process, with what accountability, and how it fitted into the Government’s data sharing strategy. If the Minister can answer all those questions, perhaps the amendment will prove superfluous. If not, why not?

Doesn’t it sound rather familiar? Rushed amendment, lack of transparency, loose terminology of data recipients and purposes. If data is presented in wording which is inaccurate, we can only expect its use to be so too.

We need to ask what is the Government’s data sharing strategy and whom does this legislation serve?

Increasingly it seems to me that the Government is firefighting ad hoc bits of data legislation into existing Bills to enable their initiatives which need our personal data. We are being mined on all fronts. Open Data across the board, HMRC plans, DWP, the NPD, DVLA, care.data and more. And mostly, without our consent and often without our informed knowledge.

How is this empowering patients and citizens by removing our choice or rights of autonomy?

Some data sharing programmes may have been addressed and work well. But it takes more than a bathful of corks, to make a watertight boat. It sounds to an outsider, like overall data sharing design and strategy needs to go back to the drawing board and draw up a decent infrastructure. Patching like this, is a waste of time IMO and we can just sit back, and await the future leaks. I just hope they won’t be nightmare stories in health.

All in all, ‘you have a choice’ sounds rather hollow in all manner of fields right now. It’s been a bad week for patient power from where I write. Our local GP practice caring for 4,000 patients is set to close at the end of the month and the list shared out to three already full alternative practices.

Tim Kelsey as Director for Patients and Information outlined in 2012:

“making data available to the public does drive choice in the same way it would in consumer markets such as financial services or mobile telephones or whatever.”

Freed data was seen to walk hand-in-hand with choice. We were told with patient choice, would come patient empowerment. The NHS was turned into a consumer market in the HSC Act 2012.

It’s therefore ironic that the foundations of care.data fail to put patient choice as its cornerstone. It’s not a consent process which is set out by the HSCA 2012 (250-60’ish). It’s a gateway for extraction with no more than fair processing requirement. That loss of autonomy is not giving patients control nor choice. And the choice that is on offer, is limited. Both in scope and time. The only choice offered in the patient leaflet and communications, is to restrict fully identifiable onward data sharing from GPs or from HSCIC. And to be excluded from care.data is a limited offer – before it is launched. After that, the only choice left is to request the data which has been extracted is made pseudonymous, but it is not possible to remove it.

There can be no arguing with what has happened in the past regarding data releases which may no longer be seen as wise. Despite the fact the Information Centre cannot tell us today, (Q272) who all the end users of data have been in the past, we are offered no new barriers to breaches of trust happening again.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 brought in fundamental changes in both practice and balance of power between patient and provider, and the State. These are changes in society over which we have little control, for now. Come the next General Election, there may be political change and ideology may be different. It may not be. And inevitably in our current political system, it will swing between different thinkings over time. But our health records given up today, are given up for life. Commercial exploitation is a value set being thrust upon us, which we may or may not not embrace. Both in terms of with whom our data is shared, who is managing it and how.

I met my own MP last week, thanked him for sharing my concerns with the Department of Health last October, and discussed the current status of the programme. He asked me, was I against sharing our medical records at all costs? To which my answer was no. No with a number of caveats.

We are used to, what most would see in this country, as a benign government. Events around the world, show us that we should not take it for granted. (I imagine at this point a failed Conservative election 2015, Boris with his cornflake model for society, replaces Cameron at some point in the next term, and wins in 2018 with support of a minority UKIP coalition. My personal result from hell. Don’t forget to vote May 22nd!)

If we have no statutory strength, what do patients really have power over in the choice to share our medical records?

So far we have only an objection to identifiable data sharing. No opt out of other data sharing from HES at all has been offered in patient communications. No opt out form and nothing in law. And Mr.Hunt’s word of ‘an objection which will be respected’ but does not yet match with what he promised on February 25th, and opt out of anonymised data used in research. 

…”we said that if we are going to use anonymised data for the benefit of scientific discovery in the NHS, people should have the right to opt out”

That’s not only on identifiable data as the patient leaflet proposed.  However I fear this may once again become subject to interpretation. Mr.Hunt has the power to make his promise a reality. I would greatly respect what he says, if we see his words become action.

In 2009 Mr.Kelsey voiced his opinion on opt out, in article published in his name in Prospect.

no one who uses a public service should be allowed to opt out of sharing their records. Nor can people rely on their record being anonymised..”

So who holds the power to make the decision? Mr.Hunt, Mr.Kelsey or do they mean what they say, they want empowered patients?

Whilst there are individuals who appear obsessed with pushing forward the promotion of health data sharing, at all costs, whether with their own Life Science company background interests, or with a vision of how we will mash it up with supermarket loyalty cards, others may be pushing back, immovably opposed to the whole idea of removal of GP patient confidentiality.

Unlike the fourth circle of Hell, there appears to be a more commonly held middle ground.

However, reality is that the opt out does not work like that yet. So far, we do not have a communicated choice on amber HES.

So even for those who support some data sharing, whilst trust hangs in the balance, people will not support a system which appears to deliberately disempower us. By first starting with opt out, care.data is skewed to removing patient choice from those who are not paying attention to public issues and we’re not sure of the security of the objection on offer anyway. Those who are alert, mainly dislike the idea of our data being traded with third parties who may use the data to create knowledge which they sell on, for profit. When we see stories of who uses it and how, we feel let down.

It feels both an abuse of trust and of power, that having trusted ‘the system’, we have been failed by its gatekeepers and guardians.

It is ironic that in a society in which news and campaigns persistently remind our children that their bodies are their own, that the knowledge of their workings will be taken from them without their knowledge or future ability to withdraw their consent and remove their records. In their lifetime, it might not only be e-data but biomedical.

Within assumed consent and opt out based on an honour system, is the question of power and control.  There is one person making a decision who can choose whether or not to respect our objection.

We have only his word, that we have an objection to share any individual identifying data from our GP practice.

The patient leaflet says, ‘you have a choice.’

In reaching our choice, I also ask if we are each individually empowered to make it of our own free will, or will we be emotionally ‘encouraged’ to see it as the right thing to do?

Perhaps made to feel selfish if we do not. Is this free and informed, and not coercion?

Citizens must be pro-active to opt out. The last letter from May 2nd online from Mr.Kelsey suggested we can work together, to get care.data right. However,  in the same letter our patient choice, comes at a price. Whilst being encouraged to see reasons to stay opted in and give up our data, we are told of a patient who was misdiagnosed and died.

“In future, this can help prevent cases such as Alison, from Hampshire, who went to her GP suspecting she had a brain tumour, but was prescribed painkillers. She was eventually diagnosed in A&E after a seizure and died less than a year later.”

I feel when I read that, it came across very much as, “see what happens if you don’t share your data? You’ll die prematurely” and the second statement on cancer in A&E made us feel guilt that we may not help us identify why someone else who died.  And if fear and guilt are not strong enough sticks, here’s the carrot, by sharing our data we’ll keep it safer somehow, by entrusting it to the State:

“minimise the risk to a person’s privacy being compromised in an age of increasingly sophisticated digital threats.”

(Erm, let me keep it only accessible by my GP practice then, rather than risk sharing it via Google Cloud?)

Please. Stop chivvying us into doing what you want. We have a choice. The leaflet, which we may or may not have ever received, told us so on the front cover.  You cannot also tell us what to choose.  Big Brother, you don’t have the right to make up our mind for us. No matter your own experiences, whether it’s a family friend’s care, or the terminal illness of a son, or indeed each of our own family experiences. None of us have the right to decide what is a correct decision for others. Neither should Mr. Hunt be asking GPs to ‘sell’ the programme to patients. It’s an abuse of power to coerce a free choice.

I don’t want to feel emotionally manipulated. Just be straight talking and trust us to make up our mind as we see fit.

Overly aggressive charity collector chuggers asking for cash donations on the street, get short shrift these days. It feels like the programme is still trying the same, with mildly threatening tactics in order to use our data, by research charities among others. The lesson why that’s not right seems not to have been learned. The Wellcome Trust clearly does understand what is needed and backed the Lord Howe’s governance and oversight proposal. (Col 1520).

The letter also gave the impression that poor or missed diagnoses in primary care were responsible for disproportionately finding cancer in A&E, which was disputed on social media Twitter by medics suggesting similar use of statistics had been previously corrected, when NHS England retracted it last autumn. Another lesson not learned. Is it an abuse of statistical data if whilst factual, it is knowingly being misunderstood and creating misinformation.  One could also ask, is this not an abuse of the power of data and anecdote?

Dante was a tad cheeky in the Comedy. He sought to create his own immortality. By retelling the stories of the damned, he created his own power over them. He controls the narrative, selecting whose stories get shared and those which do not. He is selective with the truth. He believes that by interpreting others’ stories he could give them, and himself, an eternal life. He puts himself among the great poets who have gone before him and enjoys their glory.

He is led through Hell, by Virgil, someone he both adulates and trusts.

So too patients need leadership we can trust and respect. We need transparent and accurate truth, if we are to build trust. There is no room for emotional blackmail.

There should be no power struggle in a free decision. Like in the Divine Comedy, there’s lots of rights and wrongs, differing ethics  and moral dilemmas to consider. But judgement should not be made.

Personally I believe it is not right that we parents should determine now what should be our children’s choice, with no correction nor future opt out. Not everyone *is* a willing research patient, and that’s OK. Others may want to be as involved as possible. Only 4% of the population are blood donors, but I’m not going to browbeat anyone into doing it who isn’t.

A stick is still a stick, even if you tell us in your opinion, it’s the right thing to do. You want to empower patients? Prove it. Empower us with statutory opt out and trust us to make our own choice.

Put patients first and show us you mean it.

Will it become a productive process putting patients’ choice and empowerment first, or is it all talk, hurling stones at one another, going round in circles and building nothing?

Does Mr. Hunt, Government and NHS England really want to involve patients about decisions made in the NHS, and in the use of our health data in particular?

What powers-at-be are deciding how our data is managed and governed and who can have it and why?

One of my favourite mottos is found in ‘Inferno’, Dante’s Hell.

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a time of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”

In Dante’s Commedia, treachery against religion and against government are both reserved for Hell’s final circle.

I hope my public stance is helpful. I fear it has become a bit of a rant.  Apathy is neutral. But this is no time for neutrality.  There are those in power who make decisions, those with power who influence them and the rest of us. We need to speak up.

To protect our patient choice and to ask to exercise our patient power, so oft championed in word by NHS England and Government, feels so far, rather a risky position to take and challenge what is yet an empty promise.   But public opinion should not be ignored when considering what is deemed to be in the  Public Interest.  We need a more interested public to understand what it will mean if our health data is given freely to third parties, perhaps cross borders, in pseudonymous form without data protection controls or any need to respect consent or inform us. Not just today, but for our lifetime and beyond.

We need some good interpretation and good bridge builders.

We need leaders we can trust to lead us through this process and positively out the other side.

..”every single NHS patient should have a right to opt out of having their data used in anonymised scientific research. I think that was the right thing to do. Of course we are having a difficult debate, but its purpose is to carry the public with us so that we can go on to make important scientific discoveries.”

[Jeremy Hunt, 25th February 2014 – col 148]

Power to the People, was timely this week. Is it all talk, or do you trust us to make our own choices? Trust is a two-way process. You want us to trust the system? Give us a statutory opt out. Get the governance and oversight procedures sorted out.  Narrow the commercial purposes for which data can be used.

I think patients can see the benefits of the programme, but it’s going to be hell getting to a workable solution if basic patient empowerment is left off the discussion table. After all, it’s our data.

PS: (The remix of power to the people may be better than the original.) Maybe there’s a second chance for most things.