Tag Archives: genomics

On Being Human – moral and material values

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

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

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

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

European Rights undermined

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethical values undermined

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

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

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

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

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

Minority Rights undermined

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

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

This is appalling in 21st century Britain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How undermining Rights undermines access

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

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

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

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

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

Ethical Values need Championed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part two:

What is the expectation beyond 2017?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a) some cost participation by the participants? and

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we measuring the costs and benefits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is society prepared for this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinical environment changes make engagement and understanding harder to achieve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are all questions we should be asking as society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******  image source: ESA via Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

 

*****

Launching genomics, lifeboats, & care.data

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

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

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

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

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

George Freeman_ 100K

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

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

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

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

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

So what was the key press message which came over?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NHS England Board paper, July 2013 [7]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Part two continues here}

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[15] The Royal Statistical Society identifies a Trust Deficit

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

*****

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

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

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

*****

care.data should be like playing Chopin – or will it be all the right notes, but in the wrong order? [Part one]

Five months after the most recent delay to the care.data launch, I’ve come to the conclusion that we must seek long-term excellence in its performance, not content ourselves with a second-rate dress rehearsal.

“Sharing our medical records, is like playing Chopin. Done well, it has the potential to demonstrate brilliance. It separates the good, the bad and the ugly, from the world-class players.  But will we get it right, or will we look back at repeat dire performances and can say, we knew all the right notes, but got them all in the wrong order?”

Around 100 interested individuals filled a conference room at the King’s Fund, on Cavendish Square in London last Monday, July 21st, where the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) [1] held a meeting to publicly discuss the Partridge Review [2] and HSCIC data sharing policies, practices and stakeholder expectations going forward.  Driving Positive Change.[3]

The vast majority were from organisations which are data users, some names familiar from the care.data press coverage in spring, [Beacon Consulting, Harvey Walsh] plus many university and charity driven researchers.

Sir Kingsley Manning, Sir Nick Partridge and Andy Williams [The  CEO since April 2014] all representing HSCIC, spoke about the outcomes of the PWC audit, which sampled 10% of the releases of identifiable or pseudonymous data sharing agreements for closer review, and what is termed ‘Back Office’ access (by the police, Home Office, court orders) in the eight years as the NHS IC prior to the HSCIC rebrand and changes on April 1st, 2013.

“The standard PwC methodology was adopted for sample testing data releases with the prevailing governance arrangements. Samples were selected for each of the functional areas under review. Of the total number of data releases identified (3,059); approximately a 10% sample was tested in total.” (Report, Data Release Review June 2014)

I believe it is of value to understand how we got here as well as the direction in which the HSCIC is moving. This is what the meeting sought to do, to first look back and then look forward. They are Data Controller and Processor of our health records and personal identifiable data. As care.data pathfinder pilots approach at a pace, set for ‘autumn’, the changes in the current processes and procedures for data handling will not only effect records which are already held, from our hospital care and other health settings‘, but they will have a direct effect on how our medical records extracted from GP practices will be treated, for care [dot] data in the future.

Data Management thus far has failed to meet the standards of world class delivery; in collection, governance and release

After the event, walking back to the train home, I passed the house from which Chopin left, to play his last concert. [4]

It made me think, that sharing our medical records, is like playing Chopin. Done well, it has potential for brilliance. It separates the good, the bad and the ugly, from the world-class players. Even more so, when played as part of suite, where standards are understood and interoperable . Data sharing demands technical precision, experience and discipline. Equally, gone wrong, we can look back at past performances and say, we had world class potential and knew all the right notes, but got them all in the wrong order. Where did we fail? Will we learn, or let it repeat?

The 2.5 hour event, focused more on the attendees’ main interest, how they will be affected by any changes in the release process. Some had last received data before the care.data debacle in February put a temporary halt on releases.

As a result of planned changes, will some current data customers find, that they have already received data for the last time, I wonder?

After the initial review of the critical findings in the Partridge report, the discussion centred on listening to suggestions what may be done in England to prevent future fails. But in fact, I think we should be going further. We should be looking at what we are doing in England to be the world-class player that the Prime Minister said he wants.[5]

We are focused on making the best of a bad job, when we could be looking at how to be brilliant.

To me, the meeting missed a fundamental point. Before they decide the finer points of release, they need to ensure there will be data to collect. There was not one mention of the public’s surprise that our data was collected and had been sold or shared with each of them until last spring. So now that the public in part knows about it, the recipients should also consider we are watching them closely.

Data users are being judged as one, by their group performance

What the data recipients may or may not be conscious of, is that they too each are helping to shape the orchestra and will determine the overall sound that is heard outside.

They may not realise that as data recipients, we citizens, the data providers, will see and hear their actions and respond to them all collectively, in terms of what impact it may have on our opt in/out decision.

I heard on Monday one or two shriller voices from global data intermediaries claiming that others had been receiving data whilst their own requests had been overlooked. As of last Friday, HSCIC said 627 requests were on standby, waiting for review and to know whether or not they would receive data. Currently HSCIC is getting 70 new requests a month. Bearing in mind the attendees were mostly data users, they can be forgiven that they were mostly concerned about data release and use, but they did in part also raise the importance of correct communication, governance and consent of extraction. They realise without future public trust, there is no future data store.

One consultancy however, seemed to want to blame all the other players for their own past mistakes, though there was no talk of any blame in any discussion otherwise. They asked, what about the approvals process for SUS (Secondary Uses Service data), how are those being audited and approved, is it like HES? How about HSCIC getting their act together on opt out, putting power back in the hands of patients, they asked. What about the National Cancer Registries, ONS (Office of National Statistics), all the data which is not HES, will there be one entrance point to access all these data stores for all requests? And as for insurance concerns by patients, the same said, people were foolish to be concerned. Why, “if they don’t get our health data then all the premiums will go up.”

My my, it did feel a little like a Diva having a tantrum at the rest of the performers for messing up her part. And she would darn well pull the rest of them into the pit with her if she was going to get cancelled. In true diva style, I’m sure that company didn’t even realise it.

But all those data recipients are in the same show now – if one of them screws up badly, the critics will slam them all. And with it, their providers of data, we patients, will not share our data. Consent and confidentiality are golden tickets and will not be given up lightly. If  all the data-using players perform well, abide by the expected standards, and treat both critics, audience and each other with proper etiquette, then they will get their pay, and get to stay in the show. But it won’t be a one time deal. They will need to learn continuously, do whatever the show conductor asks, and listen and learn from the critics as they perform in future, not slacking off or getting complacent.

Whilst the meeting discussed past failings in the NHS IC, I hope the organisations will consider what has truly shocked the public is some of the uses to which data has been put. How the recipients used it. They need to examine their own practices as much as HSCICs.

The majority of the attendees were playing from the same score, asking future questions which I will address in detail in part two.

The vast majority asked, how will the data lab work? And other Research users asked many similar and related questions. [This from medConfidential [6] whilst on the similar environment for accredited safe havens, goes some way to explaining the principle of a health research remote data lab (HRRDL).]

Governance questions were raised. Penalties were an oft recurring theme and local patient representative group and charity representatives, asked how the new DAAG lay person appointments process would work and be transparent.

Other questions on past data use, were concerned with the volume of Back Office data uses. The volume of police tracing for example. How person tracing by the border agency, particularly with reference to HIV and migrant health, which may reveal data to border agencies which would not normally be shared by the patients’ doctors. “If people are going to have confidence in HSCIC, this was a matter of policy which needed looking at in detail. ” The HSCIC panel noted that they also understood there were serious concerns on the quantity of intra-government departments sharing, the HMRC, Home and Cabinet Offices getting mentions.  “There was debate to be had”, he said.

And  what do you think of the show so far? [7]

They’re collectively recovering from unexpected and catastrophic criticism at the start of the year. It is still having a critical effect on many organisations because they don’t have access to the data exactly as they used to, with a backlog built up after a temporary stop on the flow which was restarted after a couple of months. HSCIC has reviewed themselves, in part, and any smart attendees on Monday will know how each of their organisations have fared. The audit has found some of their weaknesses and sought to address them. There is a huge number of changes, definitions and open considerations under discussion and not yet ready to introduce. They realise there is a great amount of work still to be done, to bring the theory into practice, test it out, edit and get to a point where they are truly ready for a new public performance.

But none of the truly dodgy sounding instruments have been kicked out yet. I would suggest there are simply organisations which are not themselves of the same standards of ethics and physical best practices which deserve to manage our data. They will bring down the whole, and need rejected – the commercial re-use licenses of commercial intermediaries. And the playing habits of the data intermediaries need some careful attention, drawing the line between their clinical support work and their purely commercial purposes. The pace may have slowed down, but data is still flowing out, and there was no recognition that this may be without data protection permission or best practice, if individuals aren’t aware of their data being used in this way. The panel conducted a well organised and orderly discussion, but there were by far more open questions, than answers ready to be given.

What we do now, sets the future stage of all data sharing, in the UK and beyond – to be brilliant, will take time to get right

How HSCIC puts into action and implements the safeguards, processes and their verbal plans to manage data in the short and medium term, will determine much for the future of data governance in England, and the wider world. Not only in terms of the storage and release of data – its technical capability and process governance, but in the approach to data extraction, fair processing, consent, communication and ongoing management.

This is all too important to rush, and I hope that the feedback and suggestions captured on the day will be incorporated into the production. To do so well, will need time and there is no point in some half-ready dress rehearsal when so much is yet to be done.

The next Big Thing – care.data

When it came to care.data, Andy Williams said it had been a serious failing to not recognise that patients view their GP records quite, totally differently, from the records held at a hospital. Sharing their HES data.

“And it is their data, at the end of the day,” he recognised.

So to conclude looking back, I believe where data sharing has reached, is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was six months ago. The Partridge Review and its recommendations recognises there are problems and makes 9 recommendations. There is lots more the workshop suggested for consideration. If HSCIC wants to achieve brilliance, it needs to practise before going out on a public stage again. The excellence of Chopin’s music does not happen by chance, or through passion alone. To achieve brilliance we cannot follow some romantic notion of ‘it will all be alright on the night’. Hard edged, technical experience knows world-class delivery demands more.

So rolling out care.data as a pathfinder model in autumn before so much good preparation can possibly be done, is in my opinion, utterly pointless. In fact, it would be damaging. It will be like pushing  a grade 5 school boy who’s not ready into the limelight, and just wishing him luck, while you wait whistling in the wings. But what will those in charge say?

Will our health data sharing be a virtuoso performance [8]? Or will we end up with a second rate show, where we will look back and say, we had all the right notes, but played them all in the wrong order [9]?

{Update August 6th, official meeting notes courtesy of HSCIC}

I look forward to the future and address this more, as we did in the second part of the meeting, in my post Part Two. [10]

*****

[1] The Health and Social Care Information Centre – HSCIC

[2] The Partridge Review – links to blog post and all report files

[3] HSCIC Driving Positive Change http://www.hscic.gov.uk/article/4824/Driving-positive-change

[4] Chopin’s Last concert in London http://www.chopin-society.org.uk/articles/chopin-last-concert.htm

[5] What are we doing in England to be the world-class player that the Prime Minister said he wants? https://www.gov.uk/government/news/record-800-million-for-groundbreaking-research-to-benefit-patients

[6] A Health Research Remote Data Lab (HRRDL) concept for the ASH consultation – https://medconfidential.org/2014/hrrdls-for-commissioning/

[7] “What do you think of the show so far?” A classic Waldorf and Statler line from the Muppet Show. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJNxj1FdKuo&list=PL1BCB0B838EBE07C6&index=12

[8] Chopin Rubenstein Piano Concerto no.2 with Andre Previn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_GecdMywPw&index=1&list=RDT_GecdMywPw

[9] Classic comedy Morecambe & Wise, with Andre Previn – all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zHBN45fbo8

[10] Blog post part two: care.data is like playing Chopin – or will it be all the right notes, but in the wrong order? [Part two – future]

**** In case care.data is news for you, here is a simple guide via Wired  and a website from GP and Caldicott Guardian Dr. Bhatia > the official NHS England page is here   ****

####

Fun facts: From The Telegraph, 2010: Prince of The Romantics by Adam Zamoyski

“That November farewell, given in aid of a Polish charity, came at the end of a difficult six-month British sojourn, which had included concerts in Manchester (one of the largest audiences he ever faced), Glasgow and Edinburgh, where the non-religious Chopin had unwillingly endured Bible readings by a pious patroness anxious to convert him to the Church of Scotland. Finally back in London, the composer-pianist spent three weeks preparing for what turned out to be his final recital by sitting wrapped in his coat in front of the fire at St James’s Place, attended by London’s leading homeopath and the Royal Physician, a specialist in tuberculosis. A week after the concert, he was on his way home to Parisian exile and death the following year.”

Born Zelazowa Wola, Poland of a French emigrant father and Polish mother, he left Poland aged 20, never to return. Well known and by some controversially for his long romantic liaison with novelist George Sand (Aurore Dudevant) after they separated his health failed and in 1848 he paid a long visit to Britain where he gave his last public performance at the Guildhall. He died in Paris.

care.data should be like playing Chopin – or will it be all the right notes, but in the wrong order? [Part two]

How our data sharing performance will be judged, matters not just today, or in this electoral term but for posterity. The current work-in-progress is not a dress rehearsal for a care.data quick talent show, but the preparations for lifetime performance and at world standard.

How have we arrived where we are now, at a Grand Pause in the care.data performance? I looked at the past, reviewed through the Partridge Review meeting in [part one here] the first half of this post from attending the HSCIC ‘Driving Positive Change’ meeting on July 21st. (official minutes are online via HSCIC >>  here.)

Looking forward, how do we want our data sharing to be? I believe we must not lose sight of classical values in the rush to be centre stage in the Brave New World of medical technology. [updated link  August 3rd]* Our medical datasharing must be above and beyond the best model standards to be acceptable technically, legally and ethically, worldwide. Exercised with discipline, training and precision, care.data should be of the musical equivalent of Chopin.

Not only does HSCIC have a pivotal role to play in the symphony that the Government wishes research to play in the ‘health & wealth’ future of our economy, but they are currently alone on the world stage. Nowhere in the world has a comparable health data set over such length of time, as we do, and none has ever brought in all it’s primary care records into a central repository to merge and link, as is planned with care.data. Sir Kingsley Manning said in the current July/August Pharma Times article, data sharing now has to manage its reputation, just like Big Pharma.

reputation
Pharma Times – July/Aug 2014 http://www.pharmatimes.com/DigitalOnlineArea/digitaleditionlogin.aspx

Countries around the world, will be watching HSCIC, the companies and organisations involved in the management and in the use of our data.  They will be assessing the involvement and reaction of England’s population, to HSCIC’s performance. This performance will help shape what is acceptable, works well and failings will be learned from, by other countries, who will want to do the same in future.

Can we rise to the Challenge to be a world leader in Data Sharing?

If the UK Government wants England to be the world leader in research, we need, not only to be exemplary in how we govern the holding, management and release of data, but also exemplary in our ethics model and expectations of each other in the data sharing process.

How can we expect China [1] with whom the British Government recently agreed £14 billion in trade deals, [2] India, the country to which our GP support services are potentially poised to be outsourced through Steria [3] or any other organi Continue reading “care.data should be like playing Chopin – or will it be all the right notes, but in the wrong order? [Part two]” »