Tag Archives: choice

Wearables: patients will ‘essentially manage their data as they wish’. What will this mean for diagnostics, treatment and research and why should we care? [#NHSWDP 3]

 

Consent to data sharing appears to be a new choice firmly available on the NHS England patient menu if patient ownership of our own records, is clearly acknowledged as ‘the operating principle legally’.

Simon Stevens, had just said in his keynote speech:

“..smartphones; […] the single most important health treatment and diagnostic tool at our disposal over the coming decade and beyond ” Simon Stevens, March 18 2015.

Tim Kelsey, Director Patients and Information, NHS England, then talked about consent in the Q&A:

“We now acknowledge the patient’s ownership of the record […] essentially, it’s always been implied, it’s still not absolutely explicit but it is the operating principle now legally for the NHS.

“So, let’s get back to consent and what it means for clinical professionals, because we are going to move to a place where people will make those decisions as they currently do with wearable devices, and other kinds of mobile, and we need to get to a point where people can plug their wearable device into their medical record, and essentially manage their data as they wish.

“It is essentially, their data.”

How this principle has been applied in the past, is being now, and how it may change matters, as it will affect many other areas.

Our personal health data is the business intelligence of the health industry’s future.

Some parts of that industry will say we don’t share enough data. Or don’t use it in the right way.  For wearables designed as medical devices, it will be vital to do so.

But before some launch into polemics on the rights and wrongs of blanket ‘data sharing’ we should be careful what types of data we mean, and for what purposes it is extracted.It matters when discussing consent and sharing.

We should be clear to separate consent to data sharing for direct treatment from consent for secondary purposes other than care (although Mr Kelsey hinted at a conflation of the two in a later comment). The promised opt-out from sharing for secondary uses is pending legal change. At least that’s what we’ve been told.

Given that patient data from hospital and range of NHS health settings today, are used for secondary purposes without consent – despite the political acknowledgement that patients have an opt out – this sounded a bold new statement, and contrasted with his past stance.

Primary care data extraction for secondary uses, in the care.data programme, was not intended to be consensual. Will it become so?

Its plan so far has an assumed opt-in model, despite professional calls from some, such as at the the BMA ARM to move to an opt-in model, and the acknowledged risk of harm that it will do to patient trust.

The NHS England Privacy Assessment said: ‘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.’

A year into the launch, Jan 2014, a national communications plan should have solved the need for fair processing, but another year on, March 2015, there is postcode lottery, pilot approach.

If in principle, datasharing is to be decided by consensual active choice,  as it “is the operating principle now legally for the NHS” then why not now, for care.data, and for all?

When will the promised choice be enacted to withhold data from secondary uses and sharing with third parties beyond the HSCIC?

“we are going to move to a place where people will make those decisions as they currently do with wearable devices” [Widening digital participation, at the King’s Fund March 2015]

So when will we see this ‘move’ and what will it mean?

Why plan to continue to extract more data under the ‘old’ assumption principle, if ownership of data is now with the individual?

And who is to make the move first – NHS patients or NHS patriarchy – if patients use wearables before the NHS is geared up to them?

Looking back or forward thinking?

Last year’s programme has become outdated not only in principle, but digital best practice if top down dictatorship is out, and the individual is now to “manage their data as they wish.”

What might happen in the next two years, in the scope of the Five Year Forward Plan or indeed by 2020?

This shift in data creation, sharing and acknowledged ownership may mean epic change for expectations and access.

It will mean that people’s choice around data sharing; from patients and healthy controls, need considered early on in research & projects. Engagement, communication and involvement will be all about trust.

For the ‘worried well’, wearables could ‘provide digital “nudges” that will empower us to live healthier and better lives‘ or perhaps not.

What understanding have we yet, of the big picture of what this may mean and where apps fit into the wider digital NHS application and beyond?

Patients right to choose

The rights to information and decision making responsibility is shifting towards the patient in other applied areas of care.

But what data will patients truly choose to apply and what to share, manipulate or delete? Who will use wearables and who will not, and how will that affect the access to and delivery of care?

What data will citizens choose to share in future and how will it affect the decision making by their clinician, the NHS as an organisation, research, public health, the state, and the individual?

Selective deletion could change a clinical history and clinician’s view.

Selective accuracy in terms of false measurements [think diabetes], or in medication, could kill people quickly.

How are apps to be regulated? Will only NHS ‘approved’ apps be licensed for use in the NHS and made available to choose from and what happens to patients’ data who use a non-approved app?

How will any of their data be accessed and applied in primary care?

Knowledge is used to make choices and inform decisions. Individuals make choices about their own lives, clinicians make decisions for and with their patients in their service provision, organisations make choices about their business model which may include where to profit.

Our personal health data is the business intelligence of the health industry’s future.

Who holds the balance of power in that future delivery model for healthcare in England, is going to be an ongoing debate of epic proportions but it will likely change in drips rather than a flood.

It has already begun. Lobbyists and companies who want access to data are apparently asking for significant changes to be made in the access to micro data held at the ONS. EU laws are changing.

The players who hold data, will hold knowledge, will hold power.

If the NHS were a monopoly board game, data intermediaries would be some of the wealthiest sites, but the value they create from publicly funded NHS data, should belong in the community chest.

If consent is to be with the individual for all purposes other than direct care, then all data sharing bodies and users had best set their expectations accordingly. Patients will need to make wise decisions, for themselves and in the public interest.

Projects for research and sharing must design trust and security into plans from the start or risk failure through lack of participants.

It’s enormously exciting.  I suspect some apps will be rather well hyped and deflate quickly if not effective. Others might be truly useful. Others may kill us.

As twitter might say, what a time to be alive.

Digital opportunities for engaging citizens as far as apps and data sharing goes, is not only not about how the NHS will engage citizens, but how citizens will engage with what NHS offering.

Consent it seems will one day be king.
Will there or won’t there be a wearables revolution?
Will we be offered or choose digital ‘wellness tools’ or medically approved apps? Will we trust them for diagnostics and treatment? Or will few become more than a fad for the worried well?
Control for the individual over their own data and choice to make their own decisions of what to store, share or deny may rule in practice, as well as theory.
That practice will need to differentiate between purposes for direct clinical care and secondary uses as it does today, and be supported and protected in legislation, protecting patient trust.
“We are going to move to a place where people will make those decisions as they currently do with wearable devices, and other kinds of mobile, and we need to get to a point where people can plug their wearable device into their medical record, and essentially manage their data as they wish.”
However as ‘choice’ was the buzzword for NHS care in recent years – conflated with increasing the use of private providers – will consent be abused to mean a shift of responsibility from the state to the individual, with caveats for how it could affect care?
With that shift in responsibility for decision making, as with personalized budgets, will we also see a shift in responsibility for payment choices from state to citizen?
Will our lifestyle choices in one area exclude choice in another?
Could app data of unhealthy purchases from the supermarket or refusal to share our health data, one day be seen as refusal of care and a reason to decline it? Mr Kelsey hinted at this last question in the meeting.
Add a population stratified by risk groups into the mix, and we have lots of legitimate questions to ask on the future vision of the NHS.
He went on to say:
“we have got some very significant challenges to explore in our minds, and we need to do, quite urgently from a legal and ethical perspective, around the advent of machine learning, and …artificial intelligence capable of handling data at a scale which we don’t currently do […] .
“I happen to be the person responsible in the NHS for the 100K genomes programme[…]. We are on the edge of a new kind of medicine, where we can also look at the interaction of all your molecules, as they bounce around your DNA. […]
“The point is, the principle is, it’s the patient’s data and they must make decisions about who uses it and what they mash it up with.”
How well that is managed will determine who citizens will choose to engage and share data with, inside and outside our future NHS.
Simon Stevens earlier at the event, had acknowledged a fundamental power shift he sees as necessary:
“This has got to be central about what the redesign of care looks like, with a fundamental power shift actually, in the way in which services are produced and co-produced.”

That could affect everyone in the NHS, with or without a wearables revolution.

These are challenges the public is not yet discussing and we’re already late to the party.

We’re all invited. What will you be wearing?

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[Previous: part one here #NHSWDP 1  – From the event “Digital Participation and Health Literacy: Opportunities for engaging citizens” held at the King’s Fund, London, March 18, 2015]

[Previous: part two #NHSWDP 2: Smartphones: the single most important health treatment & diagnostic tool at our disposal]

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Apple ResearchKit: http://techcrunch.com/2015/03/09/apple-introduces-researchkit-turning-iphones-into-medical-diagnostic-devices/#lZOCiR:UwOp
Digital nudges – the Tyranny of the Should by Maneesha Juneja http://maneeshjuneja.com/blog/2015/3/2/the-tyranny-of-the-should

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care.data – the cut-outs: questions from minority voices

“By creating these coloured paper cut-outs, it seems to me that I am happily anticipating things to come…I know that it will only be much later that people will realise to what extent the work I am doing today is in step with the future.” Henri Matisse (1869-1954) [1]

My thoughts on the care.data advisory event Saturday September 6th.  “Minority voices, the need for confidentiality and anticipating the future.”

[Video in full > here. Well worth a viewing.]

After taking part in the care.data advisory group public workshop 10.30-1pm on Saturday Sept 6th in London, I took advantage of a recent, generous gift; membership of the Tate. I went to ‘Matisse – the cut outs’ art exhibition.  Whilst looking around it was hard to switch off the questions from the morning, and it struck me that we still have so many voices not heard in the discussion of benefits, risk and background to the care.data programme. So many ‘cut out’ of any decision making.

Most impressive of the morning, had been the depth and granularity of questions which were asked.  I have heard varying aspects of questions at public events, and the subject can differ a little based on the variety of organisations involved. However, increasingly, there are not new questions, rather I hear deeper versions of the questions which have already been asked, over the last eighteen months. Questions which have been asked intensely in the last 6 months pause, since February 2014 [2] and which remain unanswered. Those from the care.data advisory committee and hosting the event, said the same thing based on a previous care.data advisory event also.

What stood out, were a number of minority group voices.

A representative for the group Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) raised a number of excellent questions, including that of communications and ‘home’ GP practices for the Traveller community. How will they be informed about care.data and know where their ‘home’ practice is and how to contact them? Whose responsibility will that be?

I spoke with a small group a few weeks ago simply about NHS use in general. One said they feared being tracked down through a government system [which was used for anything other than clinical care]. They register with new names if they need to access A&E. That tells you already how much they trust ‘the system’. For the most part, he said, they would avoid NHS care unless they were really desperately in need and beyond the capability of their own traveller community ‘nurse’. The exception was childbirth when this group said they would encourage expectant mums to go into hospital for delivery. They must continue to do so when they need to and must feel safe to do so. Whether in general they may use primary care or not, many travellers are registered at GPs, and unless their names have been inadvertently cleansed recently, they should be contacted before any data extraction as much as anyone else.

Our NHS is constitutionally there for all. That includes groups who may be cut off from mainstream inclusion in society, through their actions, inaction or others’ prejudice. Is the reality in this national programm actively inclusive? Does it demonstrate an exemplary model in practice of what we hear said the NHS aims to promote?

Transgender and other issues

The question was posed on twitter to the event, whether trans issues would be addressed by care.data. The person suggested, that the data to be extracted would “out us as probably being trans people.” As a result,  she said “I’d want to see all trans ppl excluded from care.data.”

Someone who addressed ‘her complex gender identity’ through her art, was another artist I respect, Fiore de Henriquez. She was ‘shy of publicity.’ One of her former studios is filled with work based on two faces or symbiotic heads, aside from practice pieces for her more famous commissioned work.For her biography she insisted that nothing be concealed. “Put in everything you can find out about me, darling. I am proud to be hermaphrodite, I think I am very lucky, actually.” However, in her lifetime she acknowledged the need for a private retreat and was shy until old age, despite her flamboyant appearance and behaviour. You can see why the tweet suggested excluding any transgender data or people.

‘Transgender issues’ is an upcoming topic to be addressed at the NHS Citizen even on 18th September as well. How are we making sure these groups and the ‘other’ conditions, are not forgotten by care.data and other initiatives? Minorities included by design will be better catered for, and likely to participate if they are not simply tacked on as an afterthought, in tick-box participation

However, another aspect of risk is to be considered – missing minorities 

Any groups who opt themselves out completely, may find that they and their issues are under represented in decision making about them by commissioners and budget planning for example.  If authorities or researchers choose to base decisions only on care.data these discrepancies will need taken into account.

Ciarán Devane highlighted this two-sided coin of discrimination for some people. There are conditions which are excluded from care.data scope. For example HIV. It is included in HARS reporting, but not in care.data. Will the conditions which are excluded from data, be discriminated against somehow? Why are they included in one place, not in another, or where data is duplicated in different collections, where is it necessary, where is the benefit? How can you make sure the system is safe and transparent for minorities’ data to be included,  and not find their trust undermined by taking part in a system, in which they may have fears about being identified?

Missing voices

These are just two examples of groups from whom there had been little involvement or at least public questions asked, until now. The traveller and transgender community. But there are many, notably BME, and many many others not represented at any public meetings I have been at. If they have been well represented elsewhere, any raw feedback, with issues addressed, is yet to be shared publicly.

Missing voices – youth

A further voice from which we hear little at meetings, because these meetings have been attended as far as I have seen so far, mainly by older people, is the voice of our youth.

They are left out of the care.data discussion in my opinion, but should be directly involved. It is after all, for them that we need to think most how consent should work, as once in, our data is never deleted.

Whilst consent is in law overridden by the Health and Social Care Act, it is still the age old and accepted ethical best practice. If care.data is to be used in research in future, it must design best practices now, fit for their future purposes.

How will our under-18s future lives be affected by choices others make now on their behalf?

Both for them as the future society and as individuals. Decisions which will affect research, public health planning and delivering the NHS service provision as well as decisions which will affect the risk of individual discrimination or harm, or simply that others have knowledge about their health and lifestyle which they did not choose to share themselves.

Some people assume that due to social networks, young people don’t care about privacy. This is just not true. In fact, studies show that younger people are more conscious of the potential harm to their reputation, than we may want to give them credit for.

This Royal Academy of Engineering report, [3]” Privacy and Prejudice – Young People’s views on the Development of Electronic Patient Records” produced in conjunction with Wellcome from 2010, examines in some depth, youth opinions of 14-18 year olds.  It tackles questions on medical data use: consent, control and commercialism. The hairy questions are asked about teen access to records, so when does Gillick become applied in practice and who decides?

The summary is a collection of their central questions and its discussion towards the end, which are just as valid for care.data today, as well as for considering in the Patient Online discussion for direct care access. I hope you’ll take time to read it, it’s worth it.

And what about the Children?

Some of our most vulnerable, will have their data and records held at the HSCIC. There are plans for expansion rapidly into social care data management, aligned with the transformation of health and social services. Where’s the discussion of this? Does HSCIC even have the legal capacity to handle children’s social care data?

How will at-risk groups be safer using this system in which their identities are less protected? How will the information gathered be used intelligently in practice to make a difference and bring benefit? What safeguards are in place?

“Future releases of new functionality are planned over the next 12 months, including the introduction of the Child Protection – Information Sharing application which will help to improve the protection of children who have previously been identified as vulnerable by social services.” (ref: HSCIC Spine transition)

“Domestic violence can affect anyone, but women,
transgender people and people from BME groups are at higher risk than the general population.”
(Ref: Islington’s JSNA Executive Summary – 9 – August 2014)

 

We must ask these questions about data sharing and its protection on behalf of others, because these under represented groups and minorities cannot themselves, if they are not in the room.

Where’s the Benefit?

We should also be asking the question raised at the event, about the benefits compared with the data already shared today. “Where’s the benefit?”, asked another blogger some time ago, raising his concerns for those with disabilities. We should be asking this about new dating sharing vs the many existing research databases and registries we already have, with years of history. Ciarán Devane wisely asked this on the 6th, succinctly asking what attendees had expressed.

“It will be interesting to know if they can demonstrate benefits. Not just: ‘Can we technically do this?’ but: ‘If we see primary care data next to HES data, can we see something we didn’t see before’?”

An attendee at the Healthwatch run care.data event in Oxford last week, asked the same thing. NHS England and IT providers would, one would think, be falling over themselves to demonstrate the cost/benefit, to show why this care.data programme is well managed compared with past failures. There is form on having expensive top down programmes go awry at huge public expense and time and effort. On NpfIT “the NAO also noted that “…it was not demonstrated that the financial value of the benefits exceeds the cost of the Programme.”

Where is the benefits case for care.data, to weigh against the risks? I have yet to see a publicly available business case.

The public donation

Like my museum membership, the donation of our data will be a gift. It deserves to be treated with the respect that each individual should deserve if you were to meet them face-to-face in the park.

As I enjoyed early evening sun  leaving the exhibition, the grassy area outside was packed with people. There were families, friends, children, and adults on their own. A woman rested heavily pregnant, her bump against her partner. Children chased wasps and stamped on empty cans. One man came and sold me a copy of the Big Issue, I glimpsed a hearing aid tucked into a young woman’s beehive hair, one amputee, a child with Down Syndrome giggling with a sister. Those glimpses of people gave me images I could label without a second glance. Disabled. Deaf. Downs. There were potentially conditions I could not see in others. Cancer. Crohn’s. Chlamydia. Some were drinking wine, some smoking. A small group possibly high. I know nothing about any of those individuals. I knew no names, no addresses. Yet I could see some familial relationships. Some connections were obvious. It struck me, that they represented part of a care.data population, whom buyers and researchers  may perceive as only data. I hope that we remember them as people. People from whom this programme wants to extract knowledge of their lifestyles and lives, and who have rights to express if, and how they want to share that knowledge. How will that process work?

Pathfinders – the rollout challenges that remain?

At the advisory group led meeting it was confirmed that pathfinders, would be chosen shortly.

[CCGs were subsequently announced here,  see related links, end of page for detail, note added Oct 7th]

But  the care.data programme is “still delivering without a business case”.  Despite this, “between two and four clinical commissioning groups will be selected, “in the coming weeks” to begin the pathfinder stage of the care.data programme, ” reports NIB meeting[8]

It reports what was discussed at the meeting.

“The pathfinders will test different communication strategies before moving forward with the data extraction part of the project.”

I for one would be extremely  disappointed if pathfinders go ahead in the ‘as is’ mode.  It’s not communications which is the underlying issue still. It’s not communications that most people ask about. It’s questions of substance, to which, there appear to be still insufficient information to give sound answers.

Answers would acknowledge the trust in confidentiality owed to the individual men, women, and children whose data this is. The people represented by those in the park. Or by the fifty who gave up their time on a sunny Saturday to come and ask their questions. Many without pay or travel expenses just giving up their time. Bringing their questions in search of some answers.

The pathfinder communications cannot be meaningfully trialled to meet the needs of today and the future design, when the substance of key parts of the message is uncertain. Like scope.

The care.data advisory group and the Health and Social Care Information Centre , based on the open discussion at the workshop both appear to be working, “anticipating things to come…” and to be doing their best to put processes and change in place today, which will be “in step with the future.”

To what extent that is given the right tools, time and support to be successful with all of the public, including our minorities, I don’t know. It will depend largely now on the answers to all the open questions, which need to come from the Patients and Information Directorate at the Commissioning Board, NHS England.

After all, as Mr.Kelsey himself says,

“The NHS should be engaging, empowering and hearing patients and their carers throughout the whole system all the time. The goal is not for patients to be the passive recipients of increased engagement, but rather to achieve a pervasive culture that welcomes authentic patient participation.”

What could be less empowering than to dismiss patient rights?

The challenge is: how will the Directorate at NHS England ensure to meet all these technical, governance and security needs, and yet put the most important factors first in the design; confidentiality and the voice of the empowered patient: the voice of Consent?

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This post captured my thoughts on the care.data advisory event Saturday September 6th.  “Minority voices, the need for confidentiality and anticipating the future.” This was about the people side of things. Part two, focuses on the system part of that.

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Immediate information and support for women experiencing domestic violence: National Domestic Violence, Freephone Helpline 0808 2000 247

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[1] Interested in a glimpse into the Matisse exhibition which has now closed? Check out this film.

[2] Previous post: My six month pause round up [part one] http://jenpersson.com/care-data-pause-six-months-on/

[3] Privacy and Prejudice: http://www.raeng.org.uk/publications/reports/privacy-and-prejudice-views This study was conducted by The Royal Academy of Engineering (the Academy) and Laura Grant Associates and was made possible by a partnership with the YTouring Theatre Company, support from Central YMCA, and funding from the Wellcome Trust and three of the Research Councils (Engineering and Physical and Sciences Research Council; Economic and Social Research Council and Medical Research Council).

[4]  Barbara Hepworth – Pelagos – in Prospect Magazine

[5] Questions remain open on how opt out works with identifiable vs pseudonymous data sharing requirement and what the objection really offers. [ref: Article by Tim Kelsey in Prospect Magazine 2009 “Long Live the Database State.”]
[6] HSCIC current actions published with Board minutes
[8] NIB https://app.box.com/s/aq33ejw29tp34i99moam/1/2236557895/19347602687/1

 

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More information about the Advisory Group is here: http://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/tsd/ad-grp/

More about the care.data programme here at HSCIC – there is an NHS England site too, but I think the HSCIC is cleaner and more useful: http://www.hscic.gov.uk/article/3525/Caredata

 

The Universal Free school meal Programme applied. Free, but what will it really cost?

I have children who are entitled, come September, to the universal free school meal programme. Department of Education advice came out last week. See here >>universal infant free school meals.

I wonder whether this will bring back a national treasure to benefit those who need it most, or is it just a Pandora’s box of problems?

I must admit to feeling ignorant. How much evidence is there, that FSM for all, benefits those who need it more than a means tested system? There is certainly evidence of need, but how do we best address that need?

All the average parent can know well, is how the new system will affect our own child’s experience of school meals.

NetMums did a survey of lots of us. There are simple practical things which policy ignores, such as 4 year-olds starting school usually start on packed lunch only for a half term to get to grips with the basics of school, without having to manage trays and getting help to cut up food. The length of time they need for a hot meal is longer than packed lunch.

But it raises common concerns too which perhaps need more attention, many of which seem to be coming in, in drips of similar feedback: reduced school hall and gym access because the space will need to be used for longer due to increase in number eating hot meals, lack of good kitchen facilities, fears over cooked food quality.

The theory that a nutritious, hot meal at lunch time for all infants, is not what will be delivered in reality. All are valid concerns, over which parents have little control.

How will this change the standards and quality of food compared with today, What considerations have been made for food waste and Is it the wisest way for state money to be best spent to help all who really need it?

Firstly, let’s take to task the nutritional decision making. New standards are now mandatory again, after having been, and then not been – instead left at heads’ discretion. Swings and roundabouts.

There is a blanket ‘low fat’ approach. The trouble is,  this often also means ‘replace all fat with fake stuff for flavour’. It fails to recognise that not all fats are nutritionally equal. Cholesterol is often branded a villain, but is a necessary building block for the body. Whilst parents are lambasted for creating obesity in our children and that we don’t understand enough about food, I don’t know that I agree the Government does either.

Whilst I fully understand the popular and State-driven drive for cutting down obesity levels, cutting out fat across all the food groups may not be the key to achieving it, and improving national health. This ‘low-fat is good’ approach is controversial, and low fat in particular in dessert, replaced with artificial sweeteners, also potentially harmful, is a false choice. I believe that a gentle paleo approach to food, back to basics, is a better choice. Throw out artificial things, and eat almost everything that is natural, in moderation. Not all fats are the same. Children who are growing, need the kind of fat that is in milk. It’s not the same as chips. Sugar, yes, cut it out, but don’t replace with artificial sweeteners. Not everything served on plate should be classed food.

The whole programme of child health in school is based on sweeping generalisations, but they’re not made to apply to all schools equally.  We can be told an awful lot of twaddle of how our kids should eat and exercise by state-sent leaflets in book bags. Add to that, the fact that the BMI comparison is flawed, and its communications to parents method is fundamentally flawed. (Letters saying your perfectly healthy, well proportioned child is obese, or underweight, partly due to its tool as an average cross group measure, in the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) anyway. But that’s another, longer story.) It’s no wonder parents are confused, not knowing the best thing to do on these school meals or not.

“On 17 June 2014 the department announced a new set of simplified standards. The new standards are designed to make it easier for school cooks to create imaginative, flexible and nutritious menus. They will be mandatory for all maintained schools, academies that opened prior to 2010 and academies and free schools entering into a funding agreement from June 2014, and will come into force from January 2015.
One significant change in the new standards is that lower fat milk or lactose reduced milk must, from January 2015 be available for drinking at least once a day during school hours. The milk must be offered free of charge to pupils entitled to free school meals, and to all pupils where it forms part of the free school lunch to infants.”

There is conflicting information about milk consumption and asthma for example, so I’d like to see more information around this, on expected benefits overall. The milk given to them to drink often is UHT, skimmed and processed. If you take all the good stuff out of the milk, is it doing the kids who drink it any good? I’d like to know. We should know the general standards and calorie and nutritional content of their meals in both the theoretical guidelines and ask at practical local level on the ground, because one hot meal at lunchtime, a balanced diet does not make.  We need to know what the kids are getting, in order to try and fit it into the bigger picture of their whole intake.

Secondly, we haven’t talked much about waste.

Currently, my children every week, eat both hot lunches and packed lunches from home. I pay the school’s private provider, for regular, hot lunches three days a week, and I provide packed lunch on two. (I can see ahead of time online, what’s on the provider’s menu, and I can plan and coordinate with the rest of what and how we eat, according to our family schedule.)

From September, I will no longer be able to choose to book and pay for those meals myself. And I will no longer be able to choose for some days and not others. It’s all or nothing.

The local provider will also no longer permit parents of  Reception-Year 2 children to book meals and pay for them, so even if I am fortunate enough and wanted to, I can’t opt out of the state system and pay for only those meals my children will actually eat.

The result is, if I want to continue the mix of hot and packed lunch choice I make for them, based on our family life, schedule and the nutritional content of what I want them to eat, I am required to sign them up for all five days, and either they get the imposed routine and eat more hot dinners – or carry on with our current set-up and two days a week the other hot lunches will go to waste.

However having spoken to my local school meal service today, they confirmed that after 4 weeks they plan to have a review of waste, and cut back on food provided. They won’t be paid less.

The net result, the local private provider will receive more money from the State, for my children’s hot lunches, than I pay myself now. And likely as not, there will be food wasted as well, because the providers will need to allow that some children may take it up all days.

I understand that to administer detailed choices would potentially be costly. But already we have moved admin cost back from parent to school. From September, schools will need to administer how many children are taking up the meals, and any changes in numbers week on week. Until now, I could manage it with the provider online.

However, it need not increase the admin cost to schools or state, if I could continue to book for my children, as I do now, selecting their days and meals in advance, there would be a more cost effective use of our State money, without any change in administration. It would be up to the provider to bill as used, not blanket. Surely in these days of electronic charging, not hard, and could be made without manual intervention by the state, except for regular audits, which will need to happen anyway in any well governed accounting system.

Is this the wisest use of helping those in real need?

It feels as though the Government simply doesn’t trust us to feed our children properly. I think most I know do a fairly good job. And before anyone has a go at making it a class or wealth issue, I fundamentally disagree. You get good and bad parenting and cooking skills across the board. No one is perfect. I know families who are well off but their nanny takes them to McDonalds more than one night a week for tea. Families in poverty and moving out of poverty should get support in school meals for children, but I dislike the sweeping TV benefits-hype notion that ‘poor people can’t feed their children properly.’ As if somehow, wealth is an indicator of capability or ‘doing a good job’. I do believe that parents will always try and do the best to feed their children. There are of course the rare and horrific Daniel P. exceptions whose whole care was failed by parents and State alike. They will always exist and we as a society and State need to think how they can be best addressed. But is a rushed and inflexible system of school meals going to really address those exceptions? I don’t think so. That’s not what this is about and we shouldn’t let genuine individual cases, as well as media hype of individual suffering railroad discussions.

How was it done in the past? Some were granted the support of free school meals, so if they were then, and still are now what has driven the need for change? Is this new system, in fact a huge political admission that  welfare support is not enough for the many, many families where both parents work hard and still find each month a stretch to get good food on the table every day of the month? I believe so.

{ Sept 5th 2014 update confirms: 4 in 10 children are classed as living in poverty – but may not meet the welfare benefit criteria according to Nick Clegg, on LBC. That’s a scandalous admission of the whole social system failure. He believes working parents can’t afford to feed their children properly? So fix the overall income levels, welfare, social housing balance. Not FSM. The statement that schools ‘have to manage lunch anyway’, shows a failure to understand what an average primary is like. Not the best political collected response to a flagship policy which he should expect to be quizzed on in ‘Back to School’ week. Hats off to the nine year-old who nailed it.}

I welcome anything that will help families feed their children well. However, school dinners does not necessarily mean good nutrition. I remember friends who got FSM vouchers and chose chips as a main course and chocolate brownie for pud. The work by the Trussel Trust and others, shows what desperate measures are needed to help children who need it most and simply ‘a free school meal’ is not necessarily a ticket to good food, without rigorous application and monitoring of standards, including reviewing in schools what is offered vs what children actually eat from the offering.

Parents know what their children like and will eat. There is a risk some children will simply eat less if they don’t like what’s on offer.

The entitlement is also not applied to all primary children equally, but infants only. So within a family some children are entitled and others are not. Will this reshape family evening meals, where now one has ‘had a hot meal already today’ and others have not? Feedback so far seems to indicate that there are great unknowns, and that the practical application of this policy will not live up to the nice theory.

It feels like we’re being distracted, with a pretty sticking plaster on a gaping social wound.

A personal perspective

I know our family will be happy to save any money we can, having just taken on a mortgage for our first home. But we are very fortunate, and to be honest, I just feel like we’re not entitled to it. I want the funds to go where most needed. I’ll be glad to have extra money at home, but we manage without it and I’ll still send them some days with packed lunch. Yes if  it were only about cash and ‘entitlement’, we could choose to give any savings to school funds or another charity, but I also hate food waste.  I worry that the quality of food standards will fall, for everyone. Why will this time be different compared with standards which were so poor in the past?

Why impose this method on all without rigorous planing and evaluation and a transparent communication of that to parents and schools? My school certainly doesn’t feel that has happened or been communicated, and has had a ‘a couple of emails”.  And they are a great primary school who care about things being done well. At the end of summer term,  ‘it’s a bit of an unknown.’ And as for parents, we got an SMS and asked how many might be interested back in March I think. Nothing since then. If this is such a key initiative and so important for the future well being of our kids, why are parents should be being well informed.

I now have to decide, to keep my kids in hot dinners, take them out, or keep our as-is preferred mix but feel wasteful.

Where do you draw the line between support  and interference in our family life?

You could say don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but it’s what is going into the mouths of our children that matters most. Jamie Oliver did his darnedest to educate and bring in change, showing school meals needed improvement in quality across the board. What has happened to those quality improvements he championed? Abandoned in free school & political dogma. There is clearly need when so many children are growing up in an unfairly distributed society of have and have-not, but the gap seems to be ever wider. Sheffield in 2012 had a 22% child poverty rate. Where is the analysis for true quality change, rather than change for a point of policy?

Is our children’s health a political football, which is being given as a concession in this Parliament, now rushed through to get checked-off, without being properly checked out first?

I’m not sure I trust the state imposed food standards to do a good job if the funding should be reduced in future, quality will fall again, back to the bad old pre-Jamie days.

Quality must be paramount if we are now expecting to see a larger portion of society, starting out with school meals, fed by State defined standards.

It seems there were pilots and trials but we haven’t heard much about them. There is plenty of history, but where is current discussion? I agree with David Laws, on the closure of school kitchens, but this mother believes current infrastructure and education should be fundamental to this programme, not coming in later as a secondary support measure. I wouldn’t normally choose to link to the Mail, but no other broadsheet seems to have covered it since the Department for Education guidance was issued last week.

Mr. Laws MP said,

“It is going to be one of the landmark social achievements of this coalition government – good for attainment, good for health, great for British food, and good for hard working families. Ignore the critics who want to snipe from the sidelines.”

I don’t want to be a critic from the sidelines, I’d like to be an informed citizen and a parent with choice. [and please, stop using hard working families, it indicates some sort of value judgement, which is borrowed from the coalition partners and not in a good way]

This is a consumer choice and health issue, having an effect on a practical aspect of my parenthood. It’s not a tenet of education substance.

Like these people and their FOIs, I want to ask and understand. I have questions: How will it affect the majority? Will this have a positive effect on the nutrition children get, which may be inadequate today? What guarantees are there that adequate food safety and quality issues are properly and independently governed? Will it be overall less costly and beneficial to children and parents? Will it reduce stigma? Will it increase hot dinners consumed and reduce packed lunch intake? (So much less healthy, we are told.) Is the cost worth the benefit for a minority or even for the many? Will it benefit the health of all our children?

Free, but what will it really cost?

Honestly, I don’t know. But that’s my main concern. It’s being done in such a rush without due transparency and communication, I don’t think anyone knows.

What our grandparents called it.

I regularly talk with friends about food. Often over food. I like food. I like cooking. And as a result tend to use as unprocessed-as-possible ingredients, and start most things from scratch.

I have friends who can’t cook, or won’t cook, and I have friends who like the paleo direction, as I do. There is no right answer. But I do think that whatever we use to prepare our meals, we need to be aware of how it is packaged and marketed, in making our choices.

Some labels have more meaning than others. Fairtrade. Farm fresh. Or Red Tractor. Labels which look and sound good aren’t always exactly what they say on the tin, or what we think they mean. Or they mean different things in different countries. Like ‘Bio’ often conflated with organic.

Why do we need these packaging terms at all? Are they all genuine, of substance and meaningful for consumers, or are they marketing ploys?

I think often, on closer inspection, we may find these marketing labels are used to segment the market and make those who can, pay more for ‘better quality’ and ‘choice’ . It does not necessarily mean there is much  substantive difference behind the label.

Consumers should in theory drive the market by buying what we want. But do we know what we want or are we led by marketing?

Are we nudged in the direction of the product the vendors want to sell us though clever marketing?

The total 2013 UK advertising spend reached a new high of nearly £14bn, topping pre-financial crash levels for the first time in six years. Companies must think that is money, worth spending.

How free is our choice?

I would like to think we collectively focus on the core value of what we want as a consumer not just for ourselves but for society. Decent, affordable, production aware, nutrition for all.

However reality is that those who can afford choice, worry whether it is organic or bio, chemical free or free range. Those who cannot afford it, are left with the ‘value’ ranges. It’s never marketed as ‘the cheapest option.’

When I was a teen in school, “Home economics,” classes were compulsory but the content changed to become focused on things we were ‘all’ ‘capable of’ – homemade pizza for example.  Now we ask ourselves why are so many of our generation and their kids obese? We seek solutions for weight management. Could we not go back to basics, and fix the root cause – teach all of our kids to cook, and I mean, simple, real, food? Teach us all to understand food labels. Accompanied by a living wage for all, we could both eat more simply and I believe it would make savings in health benefits.

We need our children educated not to fall for marketing without understanding it.

Uninformed, we cannot make informed choice.

Our food and our health and inexorably linked.

When it comes to healthcare, we keep hearing labels, and ‘choice’, and it’s wrapped in plenty of packaging. Patient empowerment. Personalised medicine. Patient centred care. I do wonder if we don’t over-complicate simple things.

Can care be anything else *but* patient centred?

Let me ask the question – could we consider just going back to plain language. Without having to put it through ‘Plain English’ first? Patients need care. From other people. Professionals in whom we trust. Drop the patient-centric, patient-led language.

Let’s just have, as our grandparents used to call it, [1] ‘care’.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am passionate about patient and citizen participation. It’s why I have spent all my free time of the last ten months understanding care.data and the recent NHS market changes. But it’s the way it is packaged to us, I would like more people to explore and to question whether we really need all the outside layers, or whether it detracts from the most important questions.

Is all the talk around patient-centric really a move towards passing responsibility for payment?

Most people are responsible in their own healthcare as far as they can be. When we can help ourselves, we mainly do. Most people actually are not that good at asking for help, even when they need it. We like to be self-reliant. We know we could eat better, drink less, exercise more.  We know we need to manage our treatments and lifestyle. We do, and honestly, if we don’t always do it, it’s not going to help us by repackaging the responsibility, which we know we already have. The majority of people are as responsible as they feel able to be.

Many are pushed to their limits in society of how much more responsibility they can take on. They struggle to feed and care for their families, and don’t ask for help until they really have no other option. We may not want or be able to take on extra responsibility. When we are vulnerable, we trust others to help us.

Choice in those circumstances, is a luxury that’s not high on the priority list.  Choice becomes a catchphrase, not a reality. It’s not just that for everyone, but that’s the point. Choice becomes open to some, and closed to others. Some can choose organic, others are left with the ‘value range.’

It’s not perhaps PC to stand up and ask this of everyone with the best of ‘patient-centred’ intentions.  I love and commend the intentions here.[2]

I love the spirit that patient leaders intend to ‘enable’ patient empowerment, but what does that really mean?

To me, it infers the belief we patients have no power and therefore no responsibility, right now. It infers we need some seismic shift in current care. I disagree. Care in which I have been involved has always been about a co-operaton between the professional and patient needs, and respectful. It’s what our professionals *do*. It’s  already a partnership of trust and we trust professional opinion to take much of the responsibility for our care, in our best interest.

Yes we can get labelled as a bed or a surname. Yes, there is always room for improvement. Some have had awful individual experiences. It is perhaps a luxury of relativley good health that my family has experinced simple and good care, and perhaps it is for those who have more complex conditions that the system must focus improvement.

But are we not in danger of getting so focused away from care and on the patient-power as marketing jargon that we forget that the patients are simply, people, in need of professionals, who care?

We lose focus on asking how is the delivery of that care being supported by those responsible for it, from the top down?

Are we so focused on the solution, and this drive for change, that we are not asking, what is the root cause behind this need?

When we hear farm fresh and bio, we tend to conflate them with healthy, and better for us. If a package says tomatoes, vs bio tomatoes, which do you go for? But just the word ‘bio’ may be a meaningless marketing term. It’s a promotional tool, to make us want it. It is not the same as regulated words which mean not chemically treated, for example.

And so it is with health.

In all this ‘talk’ of patient power, is the real deal deliberately obfuscated?

Being told we should have choice,  is to make us want something, demand something, create a demand in patients that in fact, we may not want at all, but start to believe we do.

Is there really a patient desire across so many of us for choosing our own hospitals or do we not just want to go somewhere near, which our families can visit to get good care? Reducing monetary inefficiences is becoming conflated [3] with overall improvement – seeing care only as a supply chain product.

Is there really a need for the drive for ever more comparison data between consultants and between GPs which we are told supports ‘choice’?

Is a market being created, for which there is little public desire?

In a market driven by payment-by-results, fewer patients can mean fewer pounds. GP Boundaries are due to be abolished in October 2014.  More GPs are going to be forced to close if nothing changes in funding. Or they amalgamate or are taken over by corporate private management, like this practice. [3b] ‘Choice’ may exacerbate these changes. And it was foreseeable, as Sir Kinglsey Manning predicted in 2006 in the Inevitable Decline of the GP Partnership. 

Are we being manipulated into wanting what others want us to want? Is the patient-centric conversation keeping us distracted from the overriding factor in current policy – the drive from top-down to cut costs? The choice made by Government to create a gap between need and what is being provided from the public purse strings?

Between the 2012 Nuffield Report [4] and today’s £30bn, there must be reliable numbers somewhere. As a lay patient, it’s hard to know what is reliable and how to get an informed understanding.

It will be even harder to make a patient choice, if there’s no money available to offer any services to choose from.

If we can’t afford to be self-payers, privately insured, what then? This is the real impact patient choice will have. Some will have choice, and many will have none. Some will have care, and many will have none.

We will have facilities closed, which cannot offer care. And facilities open, where patients cannot afford to go.

Twenty years on, Yes Minister still makes me laugh. It’s possibly even less PC now, than it was then. But are some of the storylines still relevant? Perhaps more than ever.

“Get rid of 300 of your people, and get some doctors, and nurses, and get some patients.” | Yes, Minister – the Compassionate Society

We hear now increasingly of the secondary care closures, and the looming primary care crisis in GP recruitment and we ask, what shall we do?

We need to stand up and demand fixes for the root causes and not pussy foot around with words and the PC solution to an artificial need, which avoids the basic issues. Shortage of cash and staffing.

Patients must better understand the changes in this market creation for it to work – but not all change is equally good

University fees still make studying medicine expensive, even if part supported. GPs are not always, contrary to some media-hype, the best paid in medicine. It is interesting to look at a study in the unit costs of health and social care [5]. When students draw towards the end of their expensive studies it is unsurprising many look for the best paid jobs and specialisms may appeal.  I recently spoke with one mid-year student about her future and she was looking at brain surgery or psychology. The reason? She thought GPs in the future of the NHS was ‘too unpredictable’.

The seniority pay system has been scrapped for new entrants and reduced for those already in, so they can’t look forward to natural salary progression with really good benefits later on either.

Top and tail, the profession has been hacked off, in both senses.

Against a backdrop of regular undermining like the ‘maggotgate’ scandalous misrepresentation in the media, top-down imposed changes have been a heavy burden on GPs who continue to put patients first and care for us.

They’re coping with  a technical support system [6] under constant tinkering with its admin processes which may not offer any local benefit, changes to core work [7], potential outsourcing [8] and job losses, the destabilisation of support, and both increased marketisation [9] and general lack or stalling of funding since 2010. [10]

And that’s only from an outsider patient’s point-of-view. Patients, ask your GPs.

It feels to me very much as if ministers want to pass the buck (pun intended) back to patients – if we’re responsible for the management of our care today, we’ll likely be responsible for the cost of it tomorrow.

The concept of promoting patient choice, of patient-led decision making though fundamentally not flawed, deflects from the responsibility of others in care provision. It suggests that the patient is to be solely responsible. There are of course aspects of care we can and should manage ourselves. But I don’t feel this is the primary driver of the initiative, in annual reports and roadmaps. It is all about budget, lack of budget and reduced budget.

“Choice” has become the marketing watchword to package the market force of competition to patients.

It has driven wedges between services and broken others apart, causing the lack of integration which is the very thing they now purport to be key to success in health and social care.

A decentralised, and broken up market is easier to manage by private providers, choice for patients exists only by having multiple providers, which only works if you first break up the NHS single delivery model.

We are told that we are to be risk-stratified this year in GP practices, taking our patient records and analysing them at the practice, CCG or Health and Social Care Centre approved site. By segmenting groups who will be most at ‘risk’ and therefore need higher levels of care, they will also assess those who cost the most. These segments focus for example on COPD, Diabetes, Stroke, and the over 75s repeat hospital admissions.

I worry that there are many vulnerable, such as mental health patients, whose segmentation will stigmatise and put them at risk in ever smaller funding pools.

The idea of personal budgets is a slippery first step, to segmenting out treatments and patients who may or may not be covered by NHS care.

An individual budget, a personal shopping basket, can more easily be analysed by a health insurer for example, or simply reduced by the State to be able to buy less at the State till, without topping it up with our own private contribution.

Over 40% of social care users in England [12] are managed in this way. Social care where the issues of AQF have come well documented, as private providers seek ever to reduce costs.

We are rapidly losing control of that social care market. US investors are snapping up the profitable parts of the sector, with the long term prospect of the wealthy self-pay areas provided for by US investors [13], and the poorer local authority-paid homes? well, we’ll wait and see.

Many elderly are left with ‘the cheapest option’. They may or may not think that it is good value.

If patients are empowered as the new consumers in the healthcare market, we need to speak up for what we want

Let’s cut out all the PC talk and talk to government about getting university (medicine) fees reduced or cut. Stop any new reforms and let the profesionals get on with their job of caring. Let’s cut down on the promotional packaging, and management consultant-speak in healthcare. Drop the patient-led, patient-centric. There are pages and pages in brochures on patient empowerment but patients, we need a bit more revolt, questioning why these changes are needed and what is the root of change required. As so wonderfully put recently, we need ‘revolting patients.’ (p.19) [11] We need patients putting first, but let’s first focus on the care.

Care. That’s what matters. It’s that simple. Not patient empowerment, centric or led packaging and labels. Not parcels of personalised care budgets, packaged as ‘gifts’ and choice to us.

We want as patients for our care and the support of the system of our care to be at the centre of focus.

We need the state to manage that there is enough money in the pot to provide a duty of care for all, fairly, and provide  enough trained professional staff to do so.

There is a darn big hole predicted of £30bn between planned spend and need. It’s not going to all come from savings from thin air, nor to pay for itself, so patients, who do you think the Government is expecting to pay for it?

Changes have already been made in what is ‘free on the NHS’ i.e. possible to prescribe, such as hearing aids, other areas may be under discussion, for example in kidney dialysis.

Patients, we need not be ’empowered’ to wake up to the marketing ploys. Speak up, or we are complicit in our own downfall.

Is this the best path for care in this country, or is it a policy underpinned by an  ideology which has removed the Secretary of State’s Duty of Care [14], a duty to provide, and replaced it with a duty to promote?

“The Secretary of State must continue the promotion in England of a comprehensive health service.”

Let’s challenge the drivers of marketing speak and the market based health provision. A market inevitably leads to those who can afford it, having the choice. And those who can’t, are left with the ‘value’ range. They may be left with nothing at all when they need it, if the duty of care, has been replaced with nothing but promotion.

NHS patient empowerment is like buying organic. It’s a false choice. In a system designed to have fair access for all, we should not look to segment the patients, seen as consumers, into those who can pay the most for choice, and those who cannot afford to.  Nor should we only see the benefits of personalised budgets.

Let’s ask to talk about the basics. Let’s focus on the care and providing enough funds to do it right. At patient events we need to ask what are the planned costs and where is the budget for them? What is about to be merged with Local Authority budgets for social care? What is ring-fenced and what is not? Where will decision making lie in a merged future?

Where is the Social care and Health Strategy and the benefits plan – have you seen one? I haven’t.

Let patients be patients, and professionals get trained and supported to do their job.

Government, of any colour, must ensure responsibility for the duty of care is not passed along the supply chain. These issues are cross-party and cross parliamentary terms.

The NHS belongs to us all, and should be there, for us all, and not create a three-tiered consumer market in health. Those with choice, those with state care from the ‘value’ range’, and those with neither.

Yes, Minister? [15]

********

[1] Ken Loach made Interviews on the birth of the NHS http://www.thespiritof45.com/Interviews-Archives/Health

[2] Prioritising person-centred care – the evidence http://www.nationalvoices.org.uk/evidence

[3] Wall Street Journal – blog – How Eliminating Inefficiences Can Elevate Hospital Pharmacy As A Strategic Asset http://online.wsj.com/article/PR-CO-20140506-908700.html

[3b]  Privatisation behind an Invisibility Cloak – blog by Dr.David Wrigley http://drdavidwrigley.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/privatisation-behind-invisibility-cloak.html?m=1

[4] the 2012 Nuffield Report- The funding pressures facing the NHS from 2010/11 to 2021/22

[5] Unit Study in Health and Social Care http://www.pssru.ac.uk/project-pages/unit-costs/2013/index.php

[6] Fears for QOF funding as NHS draws up contingency plans to pay GPs from next month http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/your-practice/practice-topics/qof/fears-for-qof-funding-as-nhs-draws-up-contingency-plans-to-pay-gps-from-next-month/20006085.article
[7] Pulse: Dramatic’ changes to GP contract by next April as Hunt spells out detail of general practice reform, 12 Sept 2013 by http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/home/gp-contract-2014/15/dramatic-changes-to-gp-contract-by-next-april-as-hunt-spells-out-detail-of-general-practice-reform/20004293.article
[8] Primary care contracting faces cuts and outsourcing, 5 Nov. 2013 by http://www.hsj.co.uk/home/commissioning/primary-care-contracting-faces-cuts-and-possible-outsourcing/5065021.article
[9] NHS shakeup: Private companies see potential to expand their role – Denis Campbell, July 2010 – Firms aim to to gain unprecedented foothold in healthcare system once GPs start spending £80bn of NHS funds – http://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/jul/12/nhs-private-companies-gps-funds
[10] GP Online – Cuts to enhanced services across England will wipe out slim uplifts to GP contract funding agreed for 2011/12, a GP investigation reveals. By Stephen Robinson on the 19 October 2011 www.gponline.com/exclusive-practices-face-28000-service-cuts/article/1099085
[11] Reflections – Have we empowered patients Essay: p.19 Jeremy Taylor, Chief Executive, National Voices
[12] A report by the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Global Health; HIV/AIDs; Population, Development and Reproductive Health; Global Tuberculosis; and Patient and Public Involvement in Health and Social Care – May 2014http://www.patientsorganizations.org/attach.pl/1786/2114/APPG%20Global%20Patient%20Empowerment%20Report.pdf
[13]  Social Care – US investors snap up UK care homes, FT, June 10, 2014 – by Gill Plimmer – http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/6da9f5bc-f08d-11e3-8f3d-00144feabdc0.html#axzz34kzPdWXd

[14] Health and Social Care Act 2012 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/7/section/1

[15] Yes Minister – “The Compassionate Society” (se2 ep1)
Created by Antony Jay & Jonathan Lynn. Broadcast February 23, 1981 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-5zEb1oS9A

 

 

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.