What is Care.data? Defined scope is vital for trust.

It seems impossible to date, to get an official simple line drawn around ‘what is care.data’. And therefore scope creep is inevitable and fair processing almost impossible. There is much misunderstanding, seeing it as exclusively this one-time GP load to merge with HES. Or even confusion with the Summary Care Record and its overlap, if it will be used in read-only environments such as Proactive care and Out-of-hours, or by 111 and A&E services.  The best unofficial summary is here from a Hampshire GP, Dr. Bhatia.

Care.data is an umbrella initiative, which is planned over many years.

Care.data seems to be a vision. An ethereal concept of how all Secondary Uses (ref.p28) health and social care data will be extracted and made available to share in the cloud for all manner of customers. A global standard allowing extract, query and reporting for top down control by the men behind the curtains, with intangible benefits for England’s inhabitants whose data it is. Each data set puts another brick in the path towards a perfect, all-knowing, care.data dream. And the data sets continue to be added to and plans made for evermore future flows. (Community Services make up 10 per cent of the NHS budget and the standards that will mandate the national submission of the revised CIDS data is now not due until 2015.)

Whilst offering insight opportunity for top down cost control, planning, and ‘quality’ measures, right down to the low level basics of invoice validation, it will not offer clinicians on the ground access to use data between hospitals for direct care. HES data is too clunky, or too detailed with the wrong kinds of data, or incomplete and inaccurate to benefit patients in care of their individual consultants. Prof Jonathan Kay at the Westminster Health Forum on 1st April telling hospitals, to do their own thing and go away and make local hospital IT systems work. Totally at odds with the mantra of Beverley Bryant, NHS England of, ‘interoperability’ earlier the same day. An audience question asked, how can we ensure patients can transfer successfully between hospitals without a set of standards? It is impossible to see good value for patients here.

Without a controlled scope I do not wish to release my children’s personal data for research purposes. But at the moment we have no choice. Our data is used in pseudonymous format and we have no known publicly communicated way to restrict that use. The patient leaflet, “better data means better care” certainly gives no indication that pseudonymous data is obligatory nor states clearly that only the identifiable data would be restricted if one objected.

Data extracted now, offers no possibility to time limit its use. I hope my children will have a long and happy lifetime, and can choose themselves if they are ‘a willing research patient’ as David Cameron stated in 2010 he would change the NHS Constitution for. We just don’t know to what use those purposes will be put in their lifetime.

The scope of an opt-in assumption should surely be reasonably expected only to be used for our care and nothing else, unless there is a proven patient need & benefit for otherwise? All other secondary uses cannot be assumed without any sort of fair processing, but they already are.

The general public can now see for the first time, the scope of how the HSCIC quango and its predecessors have been giving away our hospital records at arms-length, with commercial re-use licenses.

The scope of sharing and its security is clearly dependent on whether it is fully identifiable (red),  truly anonymous and aggregated (green, Open data) or so-called amber. This  pseudonymous data is re-identifiable if you know what you’re doing, according to anyone who knows about these things, and is easy when paired with other data. It’s illegal? Well so was phone hacking, and we know that didn’t happen either of course.  Knowledge once leaked, is lost. The bigger the data, the bigger the possible loss, as Target will testify. So for those who fear it falling into the wrong hands, it’s a risk which we just have to trust is well secured. This scope of what can be legitimately shared for what purposes must be reined in.

Otherwise, how can we possibly consent to something which may be entirely different purposes down the line?

If we need different data for real uses of commissioning, various aspects of research and the commercial ‘health purposes,’ why then are they conflated in the one cauldron? The Caldicott 2 review questioned many of these uses of identifiable data, notably for invoice validation and risk stratification.

Parents should be able to support research without that meaning our kids’ health data is given freely for every kind of research, for eternity, and to commercial intermediaries or other government departments. Whilst I have no qualms about Public Health research, I do about pushing today’s boundaries of predictive medicine. Our NHS belongs to us all, free-at-the-point-of-service for all, not as some sort of patient-care trade deal.

Where is the clear definition of scope and purposes for either the existing HES data or future care.data? Data extractions demand fair processing.

Data is not just a set of statistics. It is the knowledge of our bodies, minds and lifestyle choices. Sometimes it will provide knowledge to others, we don’t even yet have ourselves.

Who am I to assume today, a choice which determines my children have none forevermore? Why does the Government make that choice on our behalf and had originally decided not to even tell us at all?  It is very uncomfortable feeling like it is Mother vs Big Brother on this, but that is how it feels. You have taken my children’s hospital health records and are using them without my permission for purposes I cannot control. That is not fair processing. It was not in the past and it continues not to be now.  You want to do the same with their GP records, and planned not to ask us. And still have not explained why many had no communications leaflet. Where is my trust now?

We need to be very careful to ensure that all the right steps are put in place to safeguard patient data for the vital places which need it, public health, ethical and approved research purposes, planning and delivery of care. NHS England must surely step up publicly soon and explain what is going on. And ideally, that they will take as long as necessary to get all the right steps in the right order. Autumn is awfully close, if nothing is yet changed.

The longer trust is eroded, the greater chance there is long term damage to data quality and its flawed use by those who need it. But it would be fatal to rush and fail again.

If we set the right framework now, we should build a method that all future changes to scope ensure communication and future fair processing.

We need to be told transparently, to what purposes our data is being used today, so we can trust those who want to use it tomorrow. Each time purposes change, the right to revoke consent should change. And not just going forward, but from all records use. Historic and future.

How have we got here? Secondary Uses (SUS) is the big data cloud from which Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) is a subset. HES was originally extracted and managed as an admin tool. From the early days of the Open Exeter system GP patient data was used for our clinical care and its management. When did that change? Scope seems not so much to have crept, but skipped along a path to being OK to share the data, linked on demand even with Personal Demographics or from QOF data too, with pharma, all manner of research institutions and third party commercial intermediaries, but no one thought to tell the public. Oops says ICO.

Without scope definition, there can be no fair processing. We don’t know who will access which data for what purposes. Future trust can only be built if we know what we have been signed up to, stays what we were signed up to, across all purposes, across all classes of data. Scope creep must be addressed for all patient data handling and will be vital if we are to trust care.data extraction.

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