“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” [A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843]
“Is care.data dead?” I was asked after our children’s nativity today, “what happened to that GP record sharing project?” The local priest, you may think of all people, wondered what had become of the news stories we had discussed at Easter.
So, are you sitting comfortably? For Christmas is a time of storytelling. At its heart, the story of a birth, which has been handed down through generations.
But here, I borrow from the most famous of all English Christmas stories, a Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens from 1843. Let us begin.
“Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost. “Come in! and know me better, man!”
The ghost of care.data past rattled its chains and brought no joy in 2014, haunting the current programme with news of past data sharing practices. At the start of the year, much was made of the 25 years of past use of our health records with third parties about which the public had never been told nor asked for permission, we were told there had never been breaches , and there was surprise expressed by NHS England leadership at why care.data, the plan to extract GP records now in addition, should have struck such a nerve in the public. Then they actually ran an audit that told the full story.
Various reports have since tried to vanquish those ghosts which have haunted the rollout of care.data in the past year. Sir Nick Partridge in May led the Review of Data Releases by the NHS IC which looked back at health data sharing of the existing HSCIC held data, and in November, he examined the progress up to the present. The extent of third party releases including actuarial firms, organisations in the US and China, and commercial re-use was a complete surprise to the public and, his report appeared to suggest to many like him in management as well.
The IIGOP Report published last week on the care.data Programme Board looks to the future. It sets out a thorough set of specific recommendations, questions and tests to meet before it could be reasonable to proceed to a data extraction in the care.data pilot.
The first independent report on care.data, prepared and released under the oversight of the new Data Guardian, Dame Fiona Caldicott, it also captures many sensible and practical questions raised by patients at events all year.
In some ways, whilst sad to see what so many have said was needed has only come to be addressed by an independent body rather than NHS England, recognising the current weaknesses can only be seen as positive to bring about changes. It may have a hope of restoring public and professional trust.
What next steps will come from this for a care.data relaunch by NHS England, and when in future, remain to be seen. [Updates may be here, or here or sometimes here].
Perhaps if the current course of actions is averted, we may not ‘see a vacant seat’ if it all falls apart in 2015 after all.
The CCGs have been given a huge responsibility which is not of their making, if NHS England continues to pilot under CCG-steered rollouts.
One would hope that given the right amount of time needed to manage this change process, and with the right supporting skills and tools for the practicalities, the care.data programme will take a changed form in the year ahead. It may yet be saved.
But it does seem often that timing is of the essence, and we move from one artificial deadline to the next. The public and GPs wait without the security and confidence of a realistic schedule. Waiting we wonder if we will reach the next chime due, or the next ghost to haunt the programme will arrive and cause new fright.
It’s no cure all, but it appears the IIGOP has given the programme the gift of one last wonderful opportunity to get this right. It’s requirements are sizeable and will take time to execute sensibly. The report illuminates a future path for progress and shows what must be altered today, to avoid the future it predicts otherwise.
The outcome of care.data rests in the hands of the DH and NHS England. Dependent on the public and professions seeing change.
As Scrooge learns:
“But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.” [A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843]
Ignore the wisdom of the ghosts at your peril. For a changed future outcome, the actions of the present must change first.
So, humour me awhile, and let’s consider some of the bigger themes in the care.data Christmas carol that CCGs may wish to consider as it deals with preparing for pathfinder pilots…
Chapter 1. “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased…” [A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843]”
There should be no excuse for poverty in the world today, and whilst in my bigger picture wish list, to deal with want would come first, in my care.data Christmas carol list, it is ignorance which cannot be tolerated.
There is no excuse for ignorance, for lack of information, or wondering what questions needed answers to date at the care.data programme board of NHS England.
“How do we explain care.data vs SCR”, “Can you tell me exactly who will access my data?”, “If future purposes change and I want the opportunity to withdraw & opt out, how will I get told?”
The IIGOP report states clearly the current gaps in knowledge and what must be done to fill them, for various parties.
Together with two other major reports this year on health data sharing and care.data: Partridge, and the November 2014 APPG report , professional bodies have provided plenty of information and asked plenty of questions which no one now can ignore.
Misplaced statements that there have been no breaches do nothing for public confidence, when later reports show that is ignorant or inaccurate. Big Brother Watch published its report into NHS Data Breaches in November. It found that data security is an ongoing problem, and that over the last four years patient confidentiality had been breached at least 7,255 times.
Facts and answers now need to address the IIGOP report in depth, and meet patients’ past questions, to lay to rest some of the issues which have haunted the programme in the press; unexpected commercial uses, and re-use of data through commercial data licenses, for example.
Adequate time must be given to the CCGs, GPs and patients to be fully informed of the programme and the choice(s) on offer. This is not an IT rollout, but a series of process changes, which need human understanding and acceptance. “What’s in it for me?” versus “What risks may harm me?” need thinking time to be fairly presented and the patient choice collected.
To avoid potential doom whether it be significant opt out or failure to meet fair processing leaving GPs at risk , to adequately communicate through effective education, will take effort.
Chapter 2. “Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free.” [A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843]
The decision making, the process steps, how patients are told of changes in the programme today and will be in future, how the public perceives their data is exploited, are all linked together by very simply: who stores and uses the data, and for what purposes.
For the programme, it would be wise to understand the importance of the interaction of these parts of the process. Linked appropriately together, and working well, trust will keep the system together. It fails, and no matter how good the technology is, without trust, the system will fail to deliver its expectations. If too many may opt out, or opt out disproportionately in certain population segments it would harm data quality.
If one [class of] data recipient in future receives or uses data inappropriately, it will harm public faith in all users.
For patients, to have true transparency I believe care.data should be explaining exactly how the data linkage system  works, and all the other silos of data it already holds. The personal demographics service, stores a whole set of personal data of which the public maybe unaware, and yet may find used to link data collected from all sorts of parts of health and social care. If NHS data sharing is to be explained, do it all. To avoid doing this, will merely store up a future risk of yet more surprises for patients and damage trust further.
Chapter 3: “I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you.” [A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843]
Perhaps it is opportune to reflect on one of the oldest Biblical themes at Christmas, choose which master you serve.
Back at NHS England and the IC, discussions in April 2013 seek to ‘create a vibrant market of data intermediaries , for example.
Which purposes should this serve? The health of the nation, or the wealth of the nation? Can one justly serve both equally?
“You fear the world too much,” she answered, gently. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you.” [A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843]
It would appear to patients that by mixing commercial purposes in with legitimate health, and health research purposes, the data commissioning system has created its own downfall.
The purposes whilst amended in the Care Act 2014, are so broad as to leave too much commercial use open under ‘purposes of health’. How would that rule out pharmaceutical marketing for example?
For many patients, use outside their own healthcare and its provision and planning is a real hot chestnut.
If patients are in disagreement over commercial uses for example, they have no choice but to opt out of research uses as well. This multi-option choice, or the removal of commercial use needs addressed.
If research wants more data, we would do well to define and restrict commercial use in legislation, much more specifically.
Chapter 4 : “You wish to be anonymous?” [a Christmas Carol, 1843]
There has been much disagreement and misunderstanding of how data will be used, anonymous or what non-identifiable really means.
Media reporting at the start of the year frequently focused on the collection of care.data as ‘anonymous data.’ Bah, humbug! that is factually incorrect.
CCGs need to make sure that their own staff understanding is correct, as well as passing on information if they are to be intermediaries on behalf of NHS England. At CCG meetings I attended, many staff confused care.data with direct care/SCR.
The default position if patients do nothing is the sharing of date of birth, full postcode, gender and ethnicity, and the NHS number is a unique identifier. Plus all the other codes and conditions.
It is still unclear how the data which has already been extracted without consent or fair processing, can be controlled by patients who may not wish to share identifiable data from their hospital visits, mental or community health.
If patients can’t control data already held at HSCIC, why will they want to share more additional data, from primary care?
Learning from looking back on 2014
My own looking back on my care.data journey in 2014 is here.
“Spirit,” said Scrooge submissively, “conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.” [A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843]
“We must make sure there are no surprises for the public about how their information is being used, that they have a choice in this and that we are honest about the balance of risk. Every single one of us has a part to play in making sure we get this right…
“The HSCIC is still improving its practices. It is also endeavouring to increase its transparency.”
The November 2014 APPG report said, what everyone appears to agree on:
“the public had been inadequately consulted in the early stages of the Care.data programme and that it was therefore correct to halt the programme to allow further public consultation.” [APPG report]
It goes on to say, “Organisations providing health or social care services must succeed in both respects [examining the Public Interest] if they are not to fail the people that they exist to serve,” and with that in mind a Public Benefits Plan should be drawn up, to support public transparency.
Public transparency would be improved by publishing the public’s questions from multiple listening events at which attendees were promised answers and follow up. The conversations did not always ask easy questions, but all the more reason to address them publicly for all; it will make the programme better.
So, if the care.data programme learns from that which has haunted care.data in the past year, and NHS England now grapples with all the questions and criteria of the IIGOP report, and increases its public transparency, stakeholders can look to the future with a renewed hope. But only if there is change made to the present course of actions.
“Scrooge was at first inclined to be surprised that the Spirit should attach importance to conversations apparently so trivial; feeling assured that they must have some hidden purpose.” [A Christmas Carol]
What must surely happen now, is to use the IIGOP report as a basis of lessons learned. To see gaps in knowledge, and to build processes and procedures which set up the future. Some of these must be at national level, such as ‘How patients will be informed of future scope change’ so CCGs will need answers from NHS England even if pilots should be ‘co-produced’.
Quite frankly, only muppets would not want to wait and do all this in all the appropriate time needed. The coming General Election is perhaps seen as a key reason to artificially rush it through. But at what cost? Who is the programme for, party politics or the public good?
“What do you think of the show so far?”
Clearly the National Data Guardian and IIGOP, the APPG and others making many wise recommendations, find the approach so far lacking. To carry on as is, will bring predictable doom. But by using the IIGOP report insights, there is the hope that the outcomes of the current path may yet be avoided.
Which version of the care.data future will the NHS England Patients and Information Directorate choose to follow, and invite the CCGs to join them on, writing the next chapter of the care.data story in 2015?
“No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.” [A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843]
Let’s hope 2015 is a good year, that the wish list of questions finds answers, and let’s hope there are no more care.data surprises.
Thank you for all the kind blog comments and questions I’ve received over the last year. I hope it helps keep patients’ voice heard. For all those or their representatives I have met and spoken with in the last year who have no voice at the table; the homeless, the travellers, the women and children in refuges, those concerned with public stigma, we must continue to challenge so their datasharing is, in the words of others; safe, consensual and transparent.
“I HAVE endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it. Their faithful Friend and Servant, C. D.“
Now; let’s get back to the present today:
“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.
“To-day!” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas Day.”
“Merry Christmas, and so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every 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?”
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
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.
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  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.
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?
“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.
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.
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.
I looked in two previous posts at the background theory  to commercial uses of our data, then, the background to my concerns of commercial use with data intermediaries.  This is now part three, my glimpse into commercial use in real-world practice. It’s become rather a saga.
Here’s the short version: “In general commercial uses of data, I am increasingly learning that if you don’t pay for the product, you are the product. We need to shout a bit louder, that we are not a product for sale. It’s not only that there is an increased risk in a move of our health records from binder to byte and broadening access to them. We take issue with the change of approved purposes from care, to commercial use.”
At the Health Select Committee on July 1st,  I believe Sir Manning misses the key issue the public has with care.data and health record sharing, when he gave a response to Q562 to David Tredinnick MP:
‘We made big mistakes over the last 10 years’
“I am saddened by some of the comments that have been made this afternoon about the lack of trust and also by the impugning of our motivation. […]
We made big mistakes over the last 10 years, and we have a once-in-a-generation chance to get it right. I am absolutely clear that we have to engage the public in an open debate about the balance of risks and benefits. There will always be risks with data. There were risks with the Lloyd George envelope; notes were lost, they flew and went all over the place. There will always be risks, but those risks and the benefits are both enhanced by the technology.”
Whilst I applaud Sir Manning’s apology, and his call for open debate, I think he misses here the fundamental point of disagreement the public has with the HSCIC current practice. Selling our health data.
It’s not only that there is an increased risk in a move from binder to byte and broadening their access.We take issue with the change of approved purposes from care, to commercial use.
And these commercial (ab)uses in current form must stop if we are to trust the governance system in future.
Health Records for Commercial sale
HSCIC currently sells our health records for commercial purposes, to intermediaries with commercial re-use licenses, and had no consent nor our permission for this in the past, it continues to do so in the present and appears to have no concern or intention to stop doing so, for the future.
Mr. Kelsey added at the HS Committee,
“We have a very big job to do, and I hope that you will hold us to account in delivering it.”
To which I can only reply, it is you who say it. But who is accountable? The Open Debate which Sir Manning calls for has not been taken up by NHS England. We are told this is a programme of national importance, one which Mr. Kelsey has repeatedly said, including to the Health Select Committee previously, on which the entire future of the NHS depends. Why then, no national discussion, no news since the pause and a focus on updated communications of the current plan. The current plan with flaws in consent collection, scope determination, confusion of purposes.
There are so many ways this could be improved and gotten right, but not by November and without public debate.
There’s been no apology for the data sharing policy developed since 2010 which has encouraged commercial trading and enabled this erosion of security, confidentiality and trust in the data management system of our nation’s health records. No one at the Department of Health has said, we got this policy wrong. No one at NHS England, the same people if under a different label. Poor Sir Manning at the Information Centre who carried out their policy, has been left to say there were ‘big mistakes’ made. But not by him since July 2013.
Trust and care.data off course
That our trust now lies in tatters, is not the fault of the Health Select Committee member to whom Sir Manning says, he is saddened and disappointed. It’s not Joe Public’s fault who had no idea this was going on, until six months ago. Where did these policies and plans since 2010 come from? Where did the use of our data go so astray and why is flagship care.data now so terribly off course? Mr. Cameron outlined it in 2011. What happened in the three years?
Health records for sale
As I wrote in a previous post,
“Some of that data goes back into our health market as business intelligence, both for NHS and private use, for benchmarking, comparisons and making commercial decisions. In our commissioning based marketplace, this re-use of data is now becoming normalised.”
But should it be normal that our medical records are for sale?
When celebrity Michael Schumacher’s notes are for sale,  being offered concretely to the media, we all see that is wrong. Just imagine 70 million copies of Schumi’s record, each with our own name on it, being offered to anyone outside of those who need it for our care. Offered to these commercial for-profit data intermediaries. It’s not a theory – this is what is happening to our records, today. Don’t accept the ‘anonymised’ statements, they’re simply not true. Identifiable data and pseudonymous data has been sold. The register confirms it, and that was only a 10% sample.
“To earn the public’s trust in future, we must be able to show that our controls are meticulous, fool-proof and solid as a rock.”
I think banning data sharing for commercial use and re-use would be a good start.
What is it to be used for and why?
When we think of our health records being used by others, we need to separate the uses of the data, in order to understand different ways it is used, who uses it and why. Data once it is processed becomes knowledge which is used as Business Intelligence. It is common in discussion to conflate use in care with care.data. It’s even in the name. But the uses of care.data are secondary. Not to be used by clinicians caring for us, not replacing hospital notes to give to consultants when we are referred for a hospital stay. Not providing discharge papers. It’s only approved for commissioning and sketchily [imo] approved for risk stratification. [ref p.5 ] 
care.data extracted from GP surgeries, is not even approved for research purposes, but to read all the recent debates you’d think research depended on it. Research using GP extracted patient data, is not an approved use of care [dot] data. Research using GP extracted patient data is not an approved use of care [dot] data. Repeat, ad nauseaum.
What is already being done, and what is used legitimately i research such as public health (albeit without our past knowledge or consent), is with our hospital data, HES, SUS, Mental Health data, usually with CAG review, and through 251 approval sometimes through DAAG review at HSCIC – it is available and is on sale to all sorts of other non-care providers. And that is planned to continue.
The records extracted so far, when not used for research appear in recent years increasingly used for comparison, the concept of ‘ranking and spanking’ professionals and providers of healthcare. They are also used in commissioning, payment validation and understanding costs and spending. But beyond that, there are all sorts of others who still come under the umbrella of ‘health purposes’ but don’t directly benefit the NHS or individual patients. What is their demand and what are they being supplied?
In the newly created NHS marketplace, customers at individual level are patients, or at a market level they could be any part of the healthcare buying structure, a GP practice, a Clinical Commissioning Group, a Hospital Trust.
The challenge of any demand and supply chain process, is that you need a market willing to pay at the price you are prepared to sell. And you need to offer what they want to buy. For that, the buyers must see a value in the data they want to obtain. Where is the value for these areas of use: Generic NHS Business Intelligence, Generic Commercial Intelligence and Pharmaceutical intelligence?
Health records as Business Intelligence
Some companies take data and process it before selling it to NHS and other health providers in England. This provides a third party service and skill set which the HSCIC nor the NHS Trust for example, has themselves, such as IMS Health.
Al sorts of other places and individuals perform these services. They include a wide range of commercial organisations, small and large.
Health records as Commercial Marketing Intelligence
Commercial buyers however, can include wanting data for identity verification, fraud prevention and background checks. Services such as Experian offer. These may be what the loose definition in the Care Act would say are now banned, but are they? What is to say that a company which offers the use of private health services, healthy eating or pharmaceutical marketing is not providing information to others, for the promotion of health?
“Experian employs more than 12,500 people in 34 countries worldwide, supporting clients in more than 60 countries. Annual sales are $3.1 billion (£1.7bn/ v2.5bn).”
Identity verification can be done, matching data across a biographic footprint, ” in databases, established for 45 million UK citizens and hold in excess of 1 billion records.”
“Experian public sector currently works with 380 plus local authorities, 52 police and investigatory bodies, as well as central government agencies including DVLA, HMRC, DWP and the Cabinet Office.” 
There is clearly a lot of data sharing in the public sector, about which we may understand very little. But mostly the buyers of data want to sell something. Companies buy lists of people to use in marketing campaigns, who might be interested in what they’re selling — and companies also want to learn more about their current customers.
This is where I find the level of detail and what is done with our data, more than a little freaky.
Every UK consumer is classified into one of 22 types, aggregated into six groups. The 22 types are linked to six decision-making styles, providing insight into consumers’ motivations when using different media and the processes they go through in deciding about products and services.
I don’t know what segment I am in. But I know that I will have data stored in many of those different data sources they mention. So do they actually know more about my habits and inclination, that I have self-awareness? If their tool has over 850 million input sources which they process, it’s more than likely. 34 million email addresses, 20 million mobile phone numbers, 49.7m names and addresses.
Experian may well have much of this data from the electoral roll (unless like me, you opted out of these uses) but in the HSCIC January-April 2014 register of releases  data was given to Experian for use in Mosaic. (see July – 132kb right of page)
“Mosaic is Experian’s powerful cross-channel consumer classification designed to help you understand the demographics, lifestyles, preferences and behaviours of the UK adult population in extraordinary detail.” 
That they understand and track my behaviours probably better than I do, and at such detailed level, I find surprising and invasive. In fact, I find it threatening in a similar vein to the visceral reaction that the Facebook experiment generated this week online.
As SF Gate reported,
“Using unsuspecting members as human guinea pigs is repugnant. And when the biggest social network on the planet does it, can its leaders be trusted with their own technology?”
This idea that just because one can and the technology permits it, does not mean that one should. It just feels wrong to find out others may manipulate our thinking and behaviours in such a targeted way. Just as Experian does with consumer data:
“Within rural areas we are able to pick out the individual households that are likely to be commuting to towns and cities nearby…”
Individual households? Understanding my behaviours, gives them information which they use to nudge or influence my decision making. Understanding our behaviour ‘in extraordinary detail’ helps companies market and sell more to customers.
There are other re-uses even for health purposes, which seem less transparent and more about us as general consumers, rather than for our health. For example, the use of HES data is in social marketing targeting:
“In this way, companies who process data such as Beacon Dodsworth received data in the last year and offered it for commercial exploitation by others “HES data may be used by pharmaceutical companies “to improve [their] social marketing / media awareness campaigns”. Others included OmegaSolver and Harvey Walsh.”
How will HSCIC know how data will be used after release and how will it be audited and how often? When it comes to human tissue, the HTA only audits tissue banks in the UK once every three years. That’s a long time in between audits if something has gone horribly wrong in best practice.
Health records as Commercial Pharmaceutical Intelligence
To global pharma it is again not the data itself which is of value, but in the knowledge it reveals. The pharma business intelligence. It can show at an individual level what is being prescribed or show any gaps it reveals, which will allow pharma, to address ‘unmet clinical need.’ The data already compares hospital prescribing and reports make recommendations used by NICE on what drugs to use and recommend. My concern is that to treat the worried well who have cash to spend, will deflect attention from the needs of the sick and poor and that even if only at postcode level, we will be targeted for pharmaceutical marketing.
“The parties will initially look at how anonymised, integrated health data can be used to identify unmet clinical need in patients with diabetes. In the UK, diabetes affects approximately 2.9 million adults overall, with more than 90% of these patients having type 2 diabetes. This makes diabetes one of the most common chronic medical conditions and represents a significant strain on U.K. health services.”
“The partnership with IMS Health will give AstraZeneca access to pre-existing anonymised electronic health records, which include clinical outcome, economic and treatment pattern data. In addition, the companies will jointly develop a customised research and data analysis platform. The information will provide a deeper insight into how medicines that are already on the market are working in real-world settings across Europe, painting a picture of unmet needs …”
We can look at this more than one way. Some feel strongly commercial use should exclude Big Pharma. On the one hand, the State and Government does not own manufacturing of drugs nor medical products. Though we used to do both. Recently, that we did own, has been increasingly sold to commercial buyers or venture capitalists.
The State and pharma work together, often through University research, to create future health solutions, drugs and the drive towards personalised medicine and diagnostic tests. When companies which own our data are sold and bought internationally what happens to our data they own? Boots Alliance bought data from HSCIC, and they are about to be bought by US Walgreens. So many questions.
Those more informed than me will know all about the challenges of pharmaceutical companies, the patent cliff, mergers and diversification. IP, diagnostic tests and generics in the market. Big Pharma and the State are working together in much research to find solutions and discoveries to current and future medical issues.
How far does cooperation stretch and when does it become inappropriate? Is commercial interest supportive of State practice or driving decision making policy? Should commercial companies fund any costs at our NGOs? And do those which buy the most data, get a bigger slice of the influence of what conclusions reports using the data, reach? Whilst there is a public move to #Alltrials I believe we should demand #Allreports in the public interest as well. I would like to have transparency at HSCIC how their reports are funded, when working with partners which are frequently commercial pharma partnerships.
Mr. Hunt recently defended to the Health Select Committee the reasons why a commercially supported pharma lobbying group was used to advise on the NHS Commissioning plan – the Specialised Healthcare Alliance. Supported by 14 pharma companies, these corporate members are contributing £12,000 each towards the costs of the Alliance for 2014.
Are we really seeing transparency on who is driving change in our health service?
The Richness of our records open for Exploitation
The value of Big Data is only extracted by exploiting its richness. And these days, with mobile phones, social media and shopping habits tracked by the minute, the average citizen like me, it seems can’t easily avoid being part of it, whether we want to be or not.
But if we don’t even have the right to control and own our data and we can’t control the knowledge generated from it, how can we control who knows what about us and what they use it for? If we’re unaware of its existence, how can we understand its impact on our life to make free and uninfluenced choices in what we buy, for example? Or understand how we may be segmented and discriminated against. And this is aside from the assumption that the data held is accurate and that as a result, no mistaken judgements are being made about us.
As for our health data, how can we control its use by these massive data managers if we don’t even know who they are at the end of a chain of re-use licenses?
Put Business Intell, Commercial Intell and Pharma together
The vast amounts of data already held and analysed to the nth degree by these data intermediaries, means that making even more data available to them is going to increase the segmentation and risk of identification. They already have data on individuals and is it not enough that they make analysis at household level as shown by Mosaic? Individual health level data seems that they could put a final piece in the puzzle and know exactly who in which house had which ailments, their lifestyle risk factors could be refined and these data brokers would be able to look inside our very bodies.
One which fits data together, we do know from the HSCIC data release register, and press reports in March, is Harvey Walsh. The company tracks individuals pathway data, over time and the website now says:
“Harvey Walsh use non-sensitive and non-identifiable HES data for patient pathway mapping that is used by the healthcare industry with the NHS to improve the quality of healthcare management and service delivery by better understanding how patient cohorts move around the healthcare system.”
[Harvey Walsh’s system] “AXON holds non identifiable and non-sensitive HES (Hospital Episode Statistics) data and other sources of data including GP Practice Prescribing, QOF, Demographic and NHS personnel data sets.”
Data snapshots combine to give a Picture over a Lifetime
So now, not only can these companies understand us in infinite detail, but can do so over our lifetime. We are tracked over time and anaylsed not as a snapshot, but as a living album of snaps, moving across time. They know what we do commercially, in our lifestyle and how it interacts with our health and what may affect our consumer habits and help nudge our decision making. Put them together, and it starts to feel like I’m on The Truman Show.
I’d like to know though, once the data is processed, what happens to the new combined knowledge set, it creates? The original raw data as extracted may not be given to others, but is it the same product and protected, if it now shows up as a small piece, in a bigger jigsaw?
Omega Solver took their product offline this year, after privacy campaigners identified the risk of identifying individuals.
Acxiom as a world data leader example, is a company which provides consumer data and analytics for marketing campaigns and fraud detection. Its databases contain information about 700 million consumers worldwide.
“For more than 40 years, Acxiom has been a leader in harnessing the powerful potential of data.”
It seems others share my concerns, as this article on how data brokers use of our data is creepy, from Julia Angwen showed up in my alert feed this week, and another in ProPublica from last September. As she says,
You can see more on this, in her interview with PBS News:
Our lifetime data is attractive to commercial marketing and all sorts of organisations who wish to understand us and sell to us. The one purpose, possibly the least trusted I have not really touched on. Hospital records have been shared with insurers and used for refining policy. Records have been sold to re-insurers, even since January 2014. And these insurers mine and use data much more deeply than we want to imagine. In fact, as I finish this I see the FT front page tomorrow carries a current story how insurers trawl our Big Data.
HSCIC Data Sharing Agreements will prevent Data Merger?
IMS Health UK & Ireland’s general manager, Michael Sanvoisin shows that exploiting the different data sets ‘out there’ in Big Data, is kind of the whole point. 
“The smartest use of data will be the effective combination of all the various sources of open data and patient information services available in the marketplace, augmented by companies’ own internal information and data from other reliable and reputable sources.”
IMS Health is working in partnership with the MHRA – and in particular the clinical practice research datalink (CPRD) – to help the UK increase its capabilities to build cohorts of patients for clinical trials. This has led to the linkage of IMS Health’s Hospital Treatment Insights (HTI), the aggregation of HES and prescribing data, to the CPRD. This powerful linked dataset enables the identification of specific patient cohorts and allows companies to monitor patient flow between primary and secondary care. IMS Ardentia’s Costed Care Pathways (CCP) sequences clinical events together with detailed financial information to give a longitudinal view of a particular patient care pathway.” 
When these global companies have in addition, bought data from HSCIC, where is the transparency for patients to know what internal practice at these private companies prevents all data becoming one Big Data set, in identifiable or pseudonymous formats, and sold or shared onwards with others?
The Recent register states explicitly, that IMS will not do this, that the data will not be sold onwardly, but how about theknowledge they create from it?
“ANDromeda is an engagement tool enabling greater market access with a tailored need across all functions within pharmaceutical companies.
And in the UK, are involved in work shaping our health market: “that may involve looking at how primary care organisations operate or focusing even closer on area-level commissioning, such as GP consortiums.”
Where is our Data being Used?
“The effective combination of IMS Health’s proprietary data assets, in addition to the vast swathes of open data being made available, can help inform key strategic decisions for both the NHS and pharma. Moreover, it can drive an increase in joint working towards shared benefits and therefore transform healthcare services in the UK and beyond.”
“in the UK and beyond.” So I ask myself, which countries outside the UK have received our medical records? Remembering that non-US citizens have no privacy rights in the US, if it landed there, we can say good bye to ever getting control of that knowledge back again.
Indeed HES extracts have been given to places in the US, specifically the University of California, the FOI request I got back confirmed. The Partridge Report contained two examples of data which has gone to Kyoto University. Yes, Japan. And remember, if the data is completely aggregated and anonymised it’s not included in these registers, because it is open, green data. So what exactly went to California, Japan and who knows where else. No one knows 100%. The Report only sample tested 10% of all releases.
IMS received 251 access (which is required for confidential data without consent) for identifiable data extracted from hospital pharmacy systems, sent to HSCIC and linked with HES (hospital records). The main customer for these products will be the pharmaceutical industry. (Lines 101-2).
IMS Health is massive, as is the global health data they hold.
On the IMS One intelligent cloud, the company connects more than 10 petabytes of complex healthcare data on diseases, treatments, costs and outcomes to enable our clients to run their operations more efficiently.
Drawing on information from 100,000 suppliers, and on insights from more than 45+ billion healthcare transactions processed annually, IMS Health’s 9,500+ professionals drive results for over 5,000 healthcare clients globally. Customers include pharmaceutical, medical device and consumer health manufacturers and distributors, providers, payers, government agencies, policymakers, researchers and the financial community.
Another user of our data is Optum UK (formerly United Health Group, and if that sounds familiar it was Simon Stevens  last employer). I wonder for example, does that mean it is also used by Optum Insight in the US? This presentation by Christopher M. Blanchette, shows different data providers of ‘RWE’ real-world evidence and where their data is sourced.
If international companies have NHS England patient data and re-use licence, is it likely in to have been exported around the world or how can we know in which locations it is used? I want to know how often data is given directly to International companies? How often is data given to companies in the UK, who have foreign centres outside the UK, which would routinely share that data with their central systems and therefore export it? It is a basic right of data management to require fair processing for identifiable data, to know who has it for what purpose.
How do we protect consumers’ concerns?
And as US Commissioner Julie Brill’s report shows, in the States there are concerns how this data is used and they are acting on it. Are we doing the same here?
Dr.Neil Bhatia in Hampshire, a GP who founded the non-commercial website care-data.info, asked HSCIC in an FOI request for the data *about him* which was released to these type of intermediaries. He was told, the data controller, the Health and Information Centre, does not know. And he can’t ask for what data is held in pseudonymous format – even though the data is pseudonymous with a key to make it linkable with new identifiable data coming in, so to me, that makes little sense. It is by its nature, re-identifiable.
But if HSCIC won’t release it in a Subject Access Request (SAR), we can then only surmise, whether our individual data was contained in bulk data transfers. So from the released data register, we should look at what types of companies are using pseudonymous (so called ‘amber’ data), and assume our own data was indeed included.
Overseas Data Distribution and Protection
care.data, it was said at the Health Select Committee meeting by Mr.Kelsey in March, was only for use in the UK but the HES/SUS data application form includes a field for use overseas. So, does that mean policy for export has changed for all data, or should they have spoken more precisely meaning only that “GP data extracted in care.data” was only to be used in the UK?
Because IMS, again, already has access to primary data from CPRD and secondary care data according to line 10 from HES. And whilst, it states “[Note added 28/3: The data are onwardly released only in aggregate form] I am curious – where does ‘onward’ mean? There is no Ltd. on the company name, no territory or geography indicated in the register. So if data is released to an American firm, should we assume it sits on US servers and is accessed directly by their US staff? Does onward only restrict them from giving the raw, identifiable data they received, to others outside IMS? Is it availble in non-aggregate form inside the whole of the IMS system? I, in the general public, can’t tell from the register and IMS is hardly going to tell me. We should be able to find out. I’ve found it a challenge, and my FOI request to HSCIC  to find out what data may have been given to US or Asian organisations, was tougher than my entire lifetime of dental appointments combined. It shouldn’t be difficult. Patients should be able to easily ask, to whom did you give my health data and where, for what?
Do we know enough about the plans to use and commercially re-use our data for commercial ‘health purposes’ as being broadly defined in the Care Act? If not, patients should be asking. GPs don’t have time.
Why does it matter? Because legal jurisdiction of data is still (perhaps outdatedly) physically geographic at least in aspects with which I am familiar. When working on global implementations of confidential employment data, we had to gain legal advice from each territory submitting data, on how we should legally properly manage data from over 50 countries in the world and its access by regional and global teams in the US, Europe or Asia. And on simple terms, we should always handle, process and use data in a way the individual expects and feels common-sensed appropriate to the purpose for which it was submitted. British citizens are not protected by US privacy laws because they apply only to US citizens.
“Existing laws do not sufficiently address data brokers’ handling of sensitive data in marketing or risk mitigation contexts,”
says Julie Brill’s statement. Well they don’t protect us Brits, at all, so I want to know if it’s being used abroad.
Few in England, will expect their data to have been made as freely available at identifiable individual pathway level, as it appears to have been in recent years. Do I at least have the chance to protect my children’s future data privacy, if not my own now?
Surely we can trust Data Protection Laws?
Because of the legal status of data which is deemed “de-identified” or “anonymized”, it is claimed they don’t violate our rights to health information privacy – Data Protection law accords us only the right to fair processing, not to prevent its processing, due to the the Health and Social Care Act 2012 which requires its extraction — but if it’s possible to re-identify longitudinal data sets – and if the whole point of getting these data sets together is to combine them, surely common sense would say, it may be legal, but that doesn’t make it right. There are other DPA expectations which HSCIC also fails to meet. The Minimum data required, for example. Deletion. Accuracy. I am guessing that every single one of the eight Principles have been broken by our data extracted before the HSC Act 2012. Yet, everyone seems to be ignoring this.
When it comes to Data Protection, identifiable data is treated differently from anonymous data. Amber individual level ‘pseudonymous’ data, is not the same as aggregated anonymous statistics and the care.data privacy impact assessment  confirms the risk of re-identification, yet the data is being treated as if it is anonymous. I can’t believe people working in the field believe themselves these data groups should be looked on as being equal. In my opinion, it’s not so much a case of wearing rose-tinted spectacles, it’s more like a blindfold on the wise monkeys; hear no evil, see no evil. 
I can quite clearly state on behalf of many, we feel that our rights to privacy have been and continue to be violated, no matter what the letter of the law says.
Whilst HSCIC may see only its own data sharing practices in a silo, that’s not how the impact of its sharing works in real life. It’s a join the dots between different data sets from different sources.
Can Good Governance Give us Confidence?
We are told that data-sharing agreements make it illegal for the data to be combined with other data held by the recipient, to make it identifying. But if the Data Controller doesn’t know what data the company already has, and doesn’t even keep track of what data has been given to them already, it must be impossible for individuals within these massive corporations to know the impact of adding their piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Over time, they will not track either, what from their company has already gone into creating the Big Data picture.
We could only rely on release controls and good governance, but for the past ten years reported in HSJ and the Partridge Review, it appears some datasets have been inappropriately shared without audit, which would have spotted the mistake. Governance is simply inadequate. In my opinion, not with malicious intent. Rather, simply, the data sharing strategy has been too fast for its own good practices to keep up. Now, it has to catch up fast.
As awareness increases, so too is the push back on the privacy grab. How do we feel about losing our individual rights, the removal of confidentiality and consent, the right to freedom from cold-calling, and to know who has our data for what reasons. And do we feel the same if we lose those rights in the name of commercial or public interests?
The British public is pushing back on banking failures and resents increasingly to see the minority of individuals benefiting commercially at the expense of the many. We resent the paternal state definition of the ‘Public Good’.
The public interest considered by CAG in reviews of data release applications, must consider protecting both the public interest in research access to confidential patient data and the public interest in a confidential health service. Add to that the public interest of providing a national health service, and its safe to say ‘the public interest’ will be hard to satisfy for all of the people, all of the time and will be subjective.
“that the purpose for which the data will be used should be in the public interest and for the provision of health and care services; [and] that any approved processing must respect and promote the privacy of patients and care service users… ” (Hansard, 10 March 2014, Col.137)
Perhaps even more subjective, is the atmosphere of public interestand how interested the public is, in how how level decisions affect us on the ground. Certainly, Snowden and other data sharing revelations have coloured the muddy backdrop of how our data is gathered and used by others, and increased calls for transparency.
The Department of Health will be furious with the Home Office I expect this weekend, as they triggered a massive outcry over the perceived lack of transparency and scrutiny afforded to MPs and civil society over the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill. Even Radio 2 gave it 20 minutes coverage.  (From 01:36.40) This kind of governmental out-of-touchness with the public and the perceived desire to hide something in the rush to the new legislation, is what undermines trust in all areas of the public-state relationship.
It implies a paternal notion, of “we know best, so just trust us little children.” Well, that ain’t gonna fly. Seahaven is not “the way the world should be.”
Patient empowerment to own our Health Records
This flawed process, within and beyond NHS data sharing, has also created a sense of loss and disempowerment. Whilst presentations are all about ‘patient centred’ care, and ‘personalised medicine’ sounds so about the individual patient, it seems safe to say patients have been left out of the digital decision making and sharing how those decisions will affect the public on the ground. This for care.data, should have been central to plans to ensure support and success. There are still unfilled positions supposed to be filled by patient organisations or patients on the tech board.
It seems endemic to new programmes too. Or have patient organisations been widely involved in the genomic plans for the nation and not told us? Unlikely.
The talk thus far, does not match the walk. Knowledgable patient involvement is as desired by some of those leading parts of NHS patient engagement, as a chocolate teapot is useful. One is documented having said on another programme, “this was not a suitable point for patient involvement.” Either you want patients involved or not. Involved means from the beginning. Not as the decoration at the end, a way to tick the engagement box.
The notional idea of patient empowerment in this programme is tokenism, if the most basic principle of care, the only thing I can control in my consultation – my patient confidentiality – is treated with such little respect.
Is the public good really defined and does it outweigh the private good and our long established rights of consent and confidentiality? Does it vary depending on circumstance and if so, who decides?
It certainly doesn’t seem to be us, the patients in healthcare. Nor as citizens in any other field of our personal data.
If you don’t pay for the product, you are the product
In general commercial uses of data, I am increasingly learning that if you don’t pay for the product, you are the product. Maybe we need to shout a bit louder, that we are not a product. We do not all want the knowledge of our health & lifestyle to be for sale.
We’ve got used to these third party uses through the recent media revelations and the acceptance that current Government seems to be prepared to sell anything the State has in its possession. I wonder how representative that is of what the people would choose to do?
So at the risk of repetition, let’s not forget the basics:
The list of past customers in the Partridge Review of those who received data before April 2013 shows the extent of what was hidden from us for twenty years.
Should we be asking, what may be hidden still?
By stretching the scope of the potential discussion around the ‘industrialisaton’ and use of our health records for secondary purposes, we must not normalise the basics which we at first, found so surprising. We need to get them fixed first. Then, only then, will patients be willing to look at broader future scope. If I can’t trust you to manage my hospital record when I broke an ankle, why would I want to trust you with my genomes in future? It reveals a complete disconnect at NHS England level with the public in care.data thinking.
Come back to reality and listen to patients’ real concerns. We don’t want our data given to third parties, these data brokers and intermediaries or to continue re-use licenses. Even if it’s for ‘the promotion of health’ the purposes in the Care Bill.
And honestly? NHS England and the Department of Health shouldn’t want that acceptable in policy either, because they need to know who has our data, to govern it to make sure it is acceptable. As Sir Nick says in his report, the future data governance must be:
“meticulous, fool-proof and solid as a rock”
One more big mistake in who received our data in the future, and all cards will be off the table. For this to work, you need to properly manage it. And all this at the time where NHS England has now decided to outsource population wide databases, through the Steria outsourcing. Ha. Get that outsourcing security wrong, and for all your future programmes, as Truman would say, “Good morning, and in case I don’t see ya: Good afternoon, good evening, and good night!”
In the words of more Americans for whom I have a respect & love of their self-determined own words, Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Slow down, you move too fast.’
Julie Brill’s Statement made a recommendation in the US:
“A second accountability measure that Congress should consider is to require data brokers to take reasonable steps to ensure that their original sources of information obtained appropriate consent from consumers.”
We should feel that we consent to this mining of our health, wealth and lifestyles and know what is done with that knowledge. I feel disempowered because in finding out how my health data is used, I’ve discovered a brave new world of how my personal data is used. By commercial business. By Government. By suits and wonks as may be nicknamed. I am not equipped or informed enough to understand it all, but I’m doing my best to find out.
We need to trust in the people who manage these systems, who drive the policy and who advise the two, to work together and make technology work well for the rest of us. It should work well with privacy and security, and functionally.
Patients must speak up and Ask Questions
Patients must start asking more questions about these commercial uses and re-use licenses, because whilst the commercial intermediaries may access data for the purposes permitted in the Care Act, we are not a partner in patient engagement. Our data is being mined in the name of NHS improvement. Our samples being gathered in the name of science.
We are the product for sale. Our name, and everything else about us.
“If our health records should sail off in the flagship care.data programme, on the sea of commercial Big Data, are we confident that there is consent, fair processing, transparency, accountability, security and good governance? We must know that these basic mainstays are in place, to give it our support.”
“He that filches from me my good name, robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.” William Shakespeare, Othello
I read this Shakespeare quote last week, not in the original but in the statement Data Brokers: A Call for Transparency and Accountability by US Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission Julie Brill, May 27 2014.  . Since then I have tried to piece together a lay consumer understanding, of how this commercial data market works and how our health records fit in. Experts in data markets and many others will undoubtedly see how naïve it is. But by sharing my ordinary understanding as a mother who is thinking about the impacts of my shopping habits and upcoming care.data decision will have on my children’s future, perhaps I can highlight how trusting we are, and why those governing our data need to ensure the processes around our data are worthy of that trust.
The Commissioner begins:
“Data brokers gather massive amounts of data, from online and offline sources, and combine them into profiles about each of us. Data brokers examine each piece of information they hold about us – where we live, where we work and how much we earn, our race, our daily activities (both off line and online), our interests, our health conditions and our overall financial status – to create a narrative about our past, present and even our future lives. Perhaps we are described as “Financially Challenged” or instead as “Bible Lifestyle.”
Perhaps we are also placed in a category of “Diabetes Interest” or “Smoker in Household.” Data brokers’ clients use these profiles to send us advertisements we might be interested in, an activity that can benefit both the advertiser and the consumer. But these profiles can also be used to determine whether and on what terms companies should do business with us as individual consumers, and could result in our being treated differently based on characteristics such as our race, income, or sexual orientation. If data broker profiles are based on inaccurate information or inappropriate classifications, or used for inappropriate purposes, the profiles have the ability to not only rob us of our good name, but also to lead to lost economic opportunities, higher costs, and other significant harm.”
In other words, organisations, which we may not know store our personal, sensitive or confidential data, use it to classify, segment and label us. In this environment when third parties it seems know more about us than we may know ourselves, it would seem prudent to want to control and understand what data is held by whom and how they use it. Especially, if in her words, “the profiles have the ability to not only rob us of our good name, but also to lead to lost economic opportunities, higher costs, and other significant harm.”
This is why it matters what is being done at break-neck pace to extract and share our health records in England.
I believe we are not yet sufficiently aware of how our data is used by these intermediaries, and if we were, we’d be horrified. We are complicit consumers in how our data is used with minimal understanding. We’re prepared to unwittingly trade a little privacy with the supermarket, to get our discount vouchers through the post. But we don’t look beyond that to understand what price we are paying and how our commercial interests may be harmed, in much more significant ways than £10 discount or a Legoland entry may compensate. Just like our food, the public are complicit  in our own downfall, accepting the marketing spin. We don’t understand credit ratings  and risk scores, and even if we do, most consumers don’t know data brokers offer companies scores for other purposes unrelated to credit in an onward chain of reselling. Data can be inaccurate, we are unaware of how to manage or correct it, how we are labelled by it, what opportunities it may restrict as highlighted in the report. We should be better informed.
I’ve recently learned how these, “powerful cross-channel consumer classifications help companies understand the demographics, lifestyles, preferences and behaviours of the UK adult population in extraordinary detail.”  demonstrated by Experian.
That they understand and track my behaviours probably better than I do, and at such detailed level, I find surprising and invasive. “Within rural areas we are able to pick out the individual households that are likely to be commuting to towns and cities nearby…” I’ll go more into that later.
It has come to the attention of the general public, only in the last 6 months, that our hospital episode statistics (HES) and data from other secondary care sources, have been on sale in this consumer market. As I said in a previous post , a year ago, in April 2013, The ‘Health and Social Care Transparency Panel’ discussion on sharing patient data with information intermediaries stated at that time, there was no legitimate or statutory basis to share at least ONS data  in that way for commercial purposes:
“The issues of finding a legitimate basis for sharing ONS death data with information intermediaries for commercial purposes had been a long running problem…The panel identified this as a significant barrier to developing a vibrant market of information intermediaries.”
The HSCIC at that time saw a “vibrant market of information intermediaries, for commercial purposes” using our personal records as desirable and indeed, as Sir Kingsley Manning’s comments to the Health Select Committee demonstrate, in their DH handed-down policy remit.
In this way, companies who process data such as Beacon Dodsworth received data in the last year and offered it for commercial exploitation by others “HES data may be used by pharmaceutical companies “to improve [their] social marketing / media awareness campaigns”. Others included OmegaSolver  andHarvey Walsh .
Some of that data goes back into our health market as business intelligence, both for NHS and private use, for benchmarking, comparisons and making commercial decisions. In our commissioning based marketplace , now becoming normalised.
Through the press earlier this year, and the first data release register  we have come to understand in part, who is using it and at least in part, how. Aside from bone fide public health planners and health researchers, and the intermediaries using data for commissioning support tools, recipients include these commercial companies and third-party intermediaries exploiting the data as a commodity. Organisations which may buy raw data and sell it on, or process it and sell that data mined information onwards. Organisations after which, Chair Kingsley Manning told the Health Select Committee,  we have no idea whom all the end users may be. He indicated the progress that is needed and that HSCIC is already working on improvements, stating the view that “the process HSCIC inherited was no longer robust. ” Q285
“Kingsley Manning: I realise that, and may I come back to that? That is why, specifically with regard to the sets of data that are covered by data-sharing agreements, I took the view that the process that we inherited was no longer robust. We have therefore been in the process of changing the management and the processes, and we have voluntarily adopted a process of being much more transparent about the process and about the data releases we have made.
Q286Barbara Keeley: But what I was trying to get to was the concern. We are just looking for transparency and honesty here. On all the data that was previously released through these commercial reuse licences where there are end users—the question that the Committee wanted to put to you—you are unable to say what are the uses to which the data release under those licences may be put, what controls are in place and what information is provided—you don’t know. With the whole 13 years of the HES database and however many million records have gone out to one of these providers that then provides on to others—in the United States, this has involved putting up the data on Google cloud, and we are not sure of the security of that—you can’t say. You should admit it now. If you can’t tell us where all that data is and what all its uses are, it seems you can’t. You have already admitted that entirely commercial market uses—
Kingsley Manning: The control is through both the overriding regulations established within the Data Protection Act and the data-sharing agreements that we enter into with people, which specifically allow the reuse of data with safeguards with regard to anonymity.
Q287Barbara Keeley: So you have no idea who the end user is. You have no idea if they are using it properly because there is no audit.
Kingsley Manning: And that is in accordance with the law and the regulations as they stand today.
Q288Barbara Keeley: So, just to be clear, audit is not going to be possible for all the uses and all the end users. The data is out there. You have licensed people to use it and other people to buy it, and there is no control over that—it is just out there.
Kingsley Manning: I don’t accept there is no control. There is control established in accordance with law and the regulations as they are today.
Q289Barbara Keeley: But you are not able to say who is using it and for what reason. You are not able to say that. There are end users out there.
Kingsley Manning: No, because we have a large range of organisations that we have been encouraging. Government policy has for a long time been to encourage the use of this data to advance both the health and social care system in this country and the economy. If, for example, we supply pseudonymised data to a drug company to help it to develop a new drug, we do not know the end users beyond that organisation, but that is perceived as being a task and a function that we have. It is done in such a manner that the data is safe and secure, and is not identifiable back to an individual.
You may wish to change the base upon which we act. We absolutely welcome the suggestion that we should submit these to the confidentiality advisory group. We have identified a number of cases where we think its guidance would be very helpful, including in this area. We would absolutely welcome that, but I am afraid we cannot make up the rules that we act by.”
This is what concerns me, if the purposes and permissions granted for care.data are to be defined by the reason why recipients get data for the “promotion of health ”  and that their worthiness to receive data is based on, a wooly, undefined notion of whether it will improve care or promote health. It cannot be transparently judged if many users of data are intermediaries with re-use licences, if even the HSCIC doesn’t know who all the end users are, and does not routinely audit them. Nor can anyone know how identifiable therefore the accumulated data sets may be.
If HSCIC does not track each release, each time, each recipient receives data, how do they know every time a new request is granted, how much of the jigsaw puzzle for any given individual, is left to complete?
If you don’t know who they are, how can you govern them and what they do with our data? How on earth can anyone judge how they will be for purposes in the Care Bill 2014 of:
(a)the provision of health care or adult social care, or
(b)the promotion of health.
How can the data controllers judge whether that release, together with all the data these companies already hold, will not do us ‘significant harm’ in the words of Commissioner Brill, of the Federal Trade Commission? Will it not by its nature of labels discriminate against segments of our society, whom the data owners select, based on information beyond our visibility or control? Is society which is segmented and stratified at risk of every increasing inequality? Disability groups for example, may feel at increased risk of stigma or exclusion. David Gillon  addresses this in his post here. How can individuals determine if releasing our data to these companies is in our own, or the public interest ?
Impossible if we don’t know who they are, and we don’t know what they already hold. A model which is hardly transparent nor conducive to trust.
Dr.Neil Bhatia in Hampshire, a GP who founded the non-commercial website care-data.info, asked HSCIC in an FOI request for the data *about him* which was released to these type of intermediaries. He was told this week, that the data controller, the Health and Information Centre, does not know. We can then only surmise, if our individual data was contained in pseudonymous bulk data transfers in which there remains ‘a latent risk’ of identification. So from the released data register, we should look at what types of companies are using pseudonymous data. We are also told that penalties may be imposed, or even ‘one strike and you’re out’ for misuse of data. Until now at least without robust audit procedures, I believe we’d never know. So how could data be better secured?
There is talk of a ‘fume cupboard’ access,  or giving customers data only in query format, instead of giving out raw chunks of the database. But the Care Bill certainly didn’t legislate for any changes in those types or indeed any governance procedures. We can only wait and see if talk becomes reality and how we can trust it becomes a secure policy and stays so, after we entrust our data. There is no delete button after all.
The Secretary of State wrote on April 25th , asking to ensure current practices are up to the task, but as polite as it is, a letter is no form of governance. On June 12th, HSJ  reported that the HSCIC has ordered a significant number of trusts to “promptly” delete a series of datafields, which it claims could put patients at risk of being identified, because some of the information in “secondary uses service” that they had submitted to the agency had been entered in an incorrect way over ten years. The good news in this, is it would appear progress is being made in audit, and these errors are being addressed.
However, it highlights the issue created when you release raw data beyond your control. It will mean that organisations who should not have received data, did. How now is that data to be removed from information into which it has become? It will now no longer be raw numbers, but be in graphs, comparative studies and have been inexorably merged with other data. Unlike Cinderella’s carriage, it’s not an automatic process that the raw materials, the data, returns to its previous state after it has become enhanced, turned into business intelligence. The raw files may be traced, removed and deleted, but the knowledge it has turned into, will be almost impossible to find and delete. The links between the two may have disappeared into thin air. Harder to find, than the owner of the glass slipper. An impossible audit trail.
An audit process on leaving the trusts and upon arrival at HSCIC and on leaving HSCIC – at least a three place checkpoint – is what I would have been familiar with in the past for payroll & personal data. It seems that audit procedures for our health records, have just not kept up with the speed at which the data has been sent out on the open seas, and there has been no audit.
“Q287Barbara Keeley: So you have no idea who the end user is. You have no idea if they are using it properly because there is no audit.
Kingsley Manning: And that is in accordance with the law and the regulations as they stand today.”
It’s not to say there are no controls. We are told that data sharing agreements prevent data provided being matched with other data held, which prevents making individuals identifiable. However, as I’ll look at in my next post, I don’t think it even has to get the the person level to be sufficiently identifiable as to be discriminatory. The segmenting of society at group level, at household level, with detailed understanding of our behaviours, is sufficient, aside from the identifiable individual level data these companies hold for identity verification and so on. When companies extract and store raw data, we have no idea where and with whom it lands up. I’ve been completely surprised by what I have learned in the last few weeks how these third parties use our data.
The current controls around and governance of our health data remains unchanged by the Care Bill. Through policy, law and directions the HSCIC has
…”licensed people to use it and other people to buy it, and there is no control over that.” 
As Sir Manning said,
…”because we have a large range of organisations that we have been encouraging. Government policy has for a long time been to encourage the use of this data”
Controls may be in line with policy and the law, but I believe it simply hasn’t kept up with the functional need for a decent governance framework.
Julie Brill’s Statement made a recommendation:
“A second accountability measure that Congress should consider is to require data brokers to take reasonable steps to ensure that their original sources of information obtained appropriate consent from consumers.”
Accountability in the UK of these data brokers seems quite absent in real terms, unknown to the public at large.
The same core issue identified by Julie Brill in the US, lack of informed consent. If we don’t know you have it, how can we ask to check if it’s correct or who uses it? In an era of borderless electronic data transfers, we should seek to put in place the highest standards as common denominators, and in terms of privacy, there are lessons worth learning from the US actions post Snowden which in the UK, we have not yet begun.
If our health records should sail off in the flagship care.data programme, on the sea of commercial Big Data, are we confident that there is consent, fair processing, transparency, accountability, security and good governance? We must know that these basic mainstays are in place, and will stay so in future, to give it our support. Well governed data is more likely to get our trust, therefore our consent and be of better quality for buyers.
We must also not forget to clarify why it is our records are needed in the broad and undefined care.datascope that we still have not seen pinned down. Is the public good really defined for care.data and does it outweigh the private long established rights of consent and confidentiality? Do we trust these commercial company uses to do “no harm” as the US Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission examined?
…”the profiles have the ability to not only rob us of our good name, but also to lead to lost economic opportunities, higher costs, and other significant harm.”
When we visit a medic we are vulnerable, ill or in need of help. We entrust our knowledge in confidence, and trust it will be used for our care. A whole hotchpotch of other indirect uses, including commercial exploitation is not what we expect. We need to trust the data we give away to local staff, is processed appropriately all the way up the data chain, when it is stored, when it is released and beyond. For now at least, it appears citizens can only control the one point at which we first give our data up. After that, we have faith that those governing our data ensure the processes around its management are worthy of that trust. The governance processes that go beyond the HSCIC control, will directly influence that trust, and our care.data decision to object, or not.
For citizens to see this still precarious commercial hull, and trust that our innermost confidences should be safe within it, is stretching our trust, just a little too far. The knowledge of our health and lifestyle should not be commercially exploited in this uncontrollable marketplace by data brokers without our knowledge and consent. Health data is on the cusp of including more widespread biomedical data. In my children’s lifetime that may be a whole new era of data management to contend with. For now, all this intensive data mining may be much more than we already imagined and we should carefully consider how society will be affected if it includes every aspect of our health and lifestyle data. It may be yet another aspect of individual surveillance more than society can stand.
The care.data storm may not yet be over.
In part three on commercial uses, I’m going to explore, from my lay perspective, on how some of these intermediaries and data processing companies, use data concretely in practice. As Julie Brill says how these intermediaries, “create a narrative about our past, present and even our future lives.”
 16th March Harvey Walsh in the Sunday Times by Jon Ungoed-Thomas ‘healthcare intelligence company, has paid for a database’ http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/Health/article1388324.ece
“The challenge is that if many users of data are intermediaries with re-use licences and even the HSCIC doesn’t know who all the end users are, how on earth can anyone judge how they will be for purposes of ‘improving NHS care’?”
Commercial and third party use is one of the most damaging aspects of the rollout which is wrecking the care.data programme.
I’ve cut my opinion on this care.data topic into two parts, theory and practice, to address the outcomes of the LMC conf of yesterday from a patient POV. From my lay perspective, the result of the debate and votes was partly due to the failure to shore up the policy theory around commercial uses to make any perceivable improvement to trust for the future. And partly based on proven failures in practice to protect our data in the past. Failures around commercial use of care.data in theory and practice.
The theme of making money, is a recurring topic for women in literature, and graced or should I say, grubbied our screens in recent weeks in the adaptation of Dame Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn.
Mary Yellan, orphaned and without means, seeks the only family she has and lands among the smugglers and muddy marsh of the Cornish moors. It’s not only set against a backdrop of smuggling, but wrecking. The heroine struggles between moral conflict and practical necessity, whether to join in their activities, against her ethical principles. She gets used to it but ultimately can’t live with it.
Given that the real inn is in the middle of a very bleak moor, with no outlook except the rough shorn grass, you need to really see unmet potential to want to be its new owner. For that, you need to see strong commercial opportunities or be a committed hard core Du Maurier fan. Or both.
So it can appear, from a patient point of view on care.data. Either the driving parties promoting the release of patient data see unmet potential  which needs commercial harnessing [1b], have direct commercial interests[1c], or they have another personal interest in its extraction and access. Or perhaps they are just hard core fans of data sharing, to the point that we should support mashing our health data up with commercial retail loyalty cards as Mr. Tim Kelsey suggested in November 2013 at Strata [from 16:00] .
Are the same people and organisations driving the programme and calling for ‘data for patients’ not also the same who will benefit most from having access to the data? The measurable benefits to us patients remain unclear, at best. The cost, our confidentiality and GP trust, is however clearly non-refundable. Consent, the age old pillar of medical ethics is to be waived aside. The LMC Conf obviously see value in protecting confidentiality at source if it cannot be guaranteed by others, whether the HSCIC or the data users.
Who will all the end users of our data be? They remain somewhat undefined, because the care.data addendum including Think Tanks, commercial companies and information intermediaries was not approved  and because future users are undefined in social care, for example. Future scope will entail additional future users. But then perhaps this should not surprise us that NHS England and the HSCIC expect us to acquiesce to this fair processing failure although we don’t yet know all the future end users, because Sir Kingsley Manning admitted that HSCIC does not know who all the current end users are either (Q272) [4a] at the Health Select Committee hearing. So, were the GPs at LMC Conf just expected to trust ‘on spec’ to whom their approval of care.data would entitle its sharing?
Information intermediaries in particular, seem to still be on the key stakeholders list in January 2014. But only a year ago, in April 2013, The ‘Health and Social Care Transparency Panel’ discussion on sharing patient data with information intermediaries clearly stated there was no legitimate or statutory basis to share at least ONS data with them. 
“The issues of finding a legitimate basis for sharing ONS death data with information intermediaries for commercial purposes had been a long running problem. A number of possible approaches had been considered but advice from the relevant Government legal teams was that there did not appear to be a statutory basis for doing so. The panel identified this as a significant barrier to developing a vibrant market of information intermediaries (IIs). It also limited the ability of IIs to support NHS organisations with business intelligence to evaluate and benchmark the quality of their services.
It was agreed that this issue needed to be resolved, and if necessary changes to the relevant legislation should be considered. ”
I would love to know whether the law changed in the last year, how was the issue resolved, or has HSCIC and have we just through use, acknowledged that this sharing with intermediaries is acceptable and legal? The meeting later in July should have given clarity, but I can’t see minutes beyond April. They are no doubt somewhere, and someone cleverer than me, can help find them and clarify how the decision was reached I expect. I did find notes in the recent HSCIC audit of past data releases [4b], that ONS data was granted under existing law after all:
“The ONS data are supplied under the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 section 42(4) as amended by s287 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, for the purpose of assisting the Secretary of State for Health, or the Welsh Ministers, in the performance of his, or their functions in relation to the health service.”
Since the Health and Social Care Act revoked the Secretary of State’s duty of care to provide a national health service, I wonder what functions it relates to as pertains to third party intermediaries? The ONS application form is detailed but no more enlightening for commercial intermediary use. I can’t help feeling we’re seeking justifications rather than good cause as the starting point for widening data releases. That we are starting to accept that our hospital records have been shared without our consent and sold. (Let’s give up the recouping costs word play, call a spade a spade. Data and cash change hands.). ‘What can we do about it anyway? we may well ask. As time has gone on in the care.data debacle, and in the three months since the delay, it appears from the leadership comments of NHS England from Mr. Kelsey in Pulse that, we’re not to worry, “now we are working to make care.data safe.” [free registration required] Still no one has said, we made a mistake of its handling in the past.
This acknowledgement however that work needs done to make the data safe, underlines exactly what so many saw months ago including the GPES advisory group which had concerns  in Sept 2013 on commercial uses and its communication, governance and patient trust. Care.data was launched regardless. Now it’s grounded. What has improved since then? What remains to fix?
How well exactly did HES storage and sharing work so far, with breaches identified as well as the basic legal fair processing failing to inform us of its extraction? What has been done to prevent it happening again? I have seen no concrete steps which give me faith the past flaws have been fixed enough to now trust it in future.
So with little transparent change on policy, since we have become aware of data breaches, misuse and patient anger about commercial use, it should come therefore as no surprise that the BMA Local Medical Committees (LMCs) yesterday voted to state a preference for opt in not opt out, pseudo or anonymisation at source and insists that care.data should only be used for its stated purpose of improving health care delivery, and not sold for profit.
Simply: the public don’t trust that our identifiable data is protected and we object to all our data being traded commercially.
…”we think it would be wrong to exclude private companies simply on ideological grounds; instead, the test should be how the company wants to use the data to improve NHS care. And, as Polly Toynbee put it, if “it aids economic growth too, that’s to the good.”
The challenge is that if many users of data are intermediaries with re-use licences and we don’t even know who all the end users are, how on earth can the HSCIC judge how they will benefit ‘improving NHS care’?
As regards economic growth, if the aim is to give away data for free, as Mr. Kelsey told the September 13th NHS England board (from 26:10), how is the NHS to make profit from it? It’s not. Commercial companies are to buy at prices only to help HSCIC recoup costs , so that is not technically opposed in wording to ‘ not making a profit.’ Citizens, GPs and others can be aligned with that on paper. But not in spirit. For now commercial companies profit from our state funded records, paid for by NHS DoH money. They profit intermediaries with re-use licences beyond which we have no visibility or control of where our data goes or why. And the fact that the wider profiting third parties from the whole scheme, ATOS paid zero tax in the UK in 2012, really grates. How does the cash given to ATOS benefit economic growth in the country?
Therefore, for the LMCs to have voted now any differently, would have expected them be soothsayers, knowing that the care.data work-in-progress and any future changes will make both the future scope purposes and future users clearly defined, in order to fulfil their duty as data controller, ensuring patients have a reasonable expectation of how their data will be used. It asks GPs to betray their age old fundamental principle of medicine, to betray patient confidentiality, for commissioning. They are being told to betray the good ethics of consent. They are being asked to betray patients’ trust and even to use that trust to ‘sell’ the idea in which they may not believe.
And care.data current processes betray the best practices of data collection – seek to collect the minimum data required, for a specific purpose and delete it when that is completed.
“Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes’ consistent with the Data Protection Act principle 5. 
In my lay view, the BMA LCs had no choice in the interests of their patients but to call for a rejection of assumed consent and commercial uses. The two do not go together. Opt out for uses of our data purely for NHS care and its planning would be much more palatable. But add in commercial uses, which is what has both been the main source of patient objection and data breaches, and it’s a deal breaker.
They can’t stake their support and reputation on a best guess of what might be. They can only base their judgement on what they know now. And no one supports care.data exactly as she is right now, which is why it is postponed and work in progress. Shore up trust, governance and axe these commercial uses and perhaps an assumed consent would seem more palatable. For example, Cross border governance needs documented when the application form gives non UK options. Scope and users need defined to ensure proper fair processing to meet DPA ICO requirements . But so far, nothing has visibly changed.
It’s no different from when Ben Goldacre was telling us public trust cannot be easily regained and it broke his heart . I know why, there are expected benefits to public research amongst others to access primary care data more than they already have in CPRD or pseudonymous data in QResearch and others, but we need to act based on today’s approved uses for care.data, not what might be remain in an undefined future. Right now, we’ve seen no changes of substance since the delay was announced.
NHS England can’t therefore genuinely expect to see a shift in trust in citizens or GPs based on nothing more than lines in the sand.
I believe GPs at the LMC Conf took the best decisions they could with the programme in its current form, with knowledge of past problems and lack of future clarity over scope and users.
They voted for how they feel best protects, respects and empowers their patients.
If our current Data Controllers and guardians of confidentiality don’t stand up for patients to get the build of the infrastructure right before they agree to release our data to fill it, who will? The question will be whether the Secretary of State and NHS England will force their legal right of extraction through regardless, or will respect the medical profession’s representatives and the rights of citizens they care for?
There is an opportunity to fix things. The LMC Conf after all have no legal efficacy, they stated their opinion and stance which commands respect and attention. Flagship care.data is not washed up, yet. But it can’t sail without addressing governance and professional support. Commercial exploitation and assumed opt in are not going to work comfortably together. Transparency of who has access to what data for what purposes and how it is released needs sharpened up. And regardless of whether opt in ever comes onto the table or not, if care.data keeps her strongly commercial heading many, many more will jump ship to opt out. The damage of bias will be done, either way.
She needs some new directions, helmsmanship that we trust and sound repairs.
If you have missed the background to this saga, I’d recommend the Julia Powles article in WIRED – what to save when the care.data ship goes down.
I’m going to look at some more of the commercial uses of care.data in practice another time. And clarify the communication of the opt out codes and why research purposes is a misnomer in the GP patient record sharing part of care.data purposes – it’s not (yet at least) an approved use.
[1c] Hansard, Nov 2010 George Freeman ‘I know from my own experience that we are sitting on billions of pounds-worth of patient data. Let us think about how we can unlock the value of those data around the world.’
 Strata November 2013, Tim Kelsey keynote ‘mash it up with other data sources to get their local retailers to tell them about their purchasing habits so they can mash that up with their health data’