– Transparency and Remit vs Truth and Responsibility

A year ago Big Brother Watch wrote that an opt out right had been won from the original plan to extract all our GP records without any choice. Caught trying to avoid the DPA and Fair processing, ICO recommended the need for a public awareness campaign.

At that time, I was a merry mother unaware of the machinations of our civil society. Then the powers-at-be closed my local mini blood mobile (I had just started as a donor) and decided to sell off our plasma supply, which was considered a rather poor idea so I read all the Annual Reports and asked questions about it. And I started to pay rather more close attention to what was going on in health. Now I listen to Radio 4 not 2, I buy papers (actual, printed versions) and would you believe, watch Parliamentary TV. And if you want more scandal which actually matters more than your average soap, you should too.

On the 8th April the Health Select Committee (at least part of it) interviewed Sir Kingsley Manning and Max Jones from the Health and Social Care Information Centre. The hope for us, as citizens and patients whose data this current debate is about, is that we will gain insight and understanding into how our medical records have been used in the past and are being so now. This will enable us to trust in the intent of how HSCIC will handle our patient data in the future, whether under the or any other label.

If HSCIC and Government wants to achieve this, they seem to be going a backwards way about it.

Stop talking transparency and remit, and start talking truth and responsibility.

The question was asked how decisions are made within HSCIC by their Data Access Advisory Group about our patient data management. Specifically, it discussed the subject of an application from last summer by the Cabinet Office OC/HES/030 – Project National Citizen Service Data Linkage Project. It was included only 6 months later in the January 2014 minutes.

The very application title, reveals its intent, to link the mental health and hospital records of our young people who take part in the National Citizen Service together with their NCS project gathered data.

Caught with this concrete ‘Out of Committee’ governance approach, the HSCIC staff were both adamant in response to the MP’s question in insisting that no data was shared. 

“Q230 Barbara Keeley: What was requested was linkage of data, wasn’t it? It was linkage to medical data.
Kingsley Manning: No, he was asked by the Cabinet Office to give professional advice on the consent model they were considering. He gave that advice, which was a perfectly sensible thing for him to do. That was the end of the matter.”

Well, I’m sorry but I’ve read the document, And the DAAG minutes say clearly “The intention was to link to HES/MHMDS in the future.” I paste it below.

So, that was not the end of the matter, but is in fact the beginning. The intent is for future data sharing. Our young people at the start of their adult lives, by the very fact of taking the initiative and enquiring to take part in the Activities / Community Project-based work of the NCS, will find their intimate health records linked with the project data, with an unspecified end date.This is a real and active request which was approved, not some past mistake to dismiss. It was and still is approved,for future data sharing.”

Whilst I may believe HSCIC that no data was shared last summer,  and I might believe you were trying to be factual in answering the question, I do not believe that even you could think that consent advice was the sole intent of the DAAG approval, had you read the minutes of your own DAAG meeting. And clearly you had or would not have been so adamant in the answers.

The Guardian article Mrs. Keeley MP mentions, also had their own opinion of the relationships between the parties involved.

Bizarrely almost, we are repeatedly told as reassurance that any organisation with access to pseudonymous health data, which tries to re-identify the individuals whose data it was, would be doing so illegally. Yet the Cabinet Office wants to take medical records and match it to known individuals on their youth programme and keep and share those enriched records without it seems, any qualms at all?

Our trust needs to be based on absolute truth, not manufactured transparency. Truth is bigger and complete with background intent. Not just scraping out the minimum facts in carefully worded language to be legally compliant.

To increase our public trust, we have been told we will know who has had our data in the past, when and for what purposes. In Parliament on March 25th Dan Poulter Health Minister said,  “a report detailing all data released by the HSCIC from April 2013, (including the legal basis under which data was released and the purpose to which the data are being put), will be published by HSCIC on April 2.”

It didn’t happen. HSCIC made available only some. Those made under some sort of data agreement. What of those with direct access to HES at their site, or the police, others have asked?

The Commissioning Board NHS England, tells us repeatedly that they contacted every household in England by leaflet to tell us about and our ‘choice’ to object.

It didn’t happen. Many did not get a leaflet, not just those who opted out of junk mail. Tim Kelsey said he was looking into it. With urgency. Two months later, not a cheep!

So far, we have no report or indication there will be any. Why there were not enough or not delivered leaflets? What they are doing to fix that? It cost the equivalent of at least 50 nurses’ annual salary and the best publicly avaialble information we have from the Information Commissioner’s Office, is that it should never have gone ahead at all. 

So who is taking responsibility for that? Over £1M of public money junked through some letter boxes for the dog to eat. Which no one could understand because it was deliberately obtuse.

And so we come to our future Data Controllers HSCIC. Who seem to have no control at all.

Based on their own admission they have no idea where our medical records are being used, by whom today, and yet we are expected to trust them to use wisely in future?

Barbara Keeley: So have you got the information because I have asked for it twice, but not been given it? For all those 249 organisations with a commercial reuse licence, can we know who all the end users of our data are?

Kingsley Manning: No, because they are using it and putting it into additional services. So, for example, a company such as McKinsey or KPMG would have used it to support Monitor or the NHS TDA in advising on the transformation of health care services.

The Chair of the Heath and Social Care Information Centre has no idea know who has our medical and personal confidential data or what they are using it for.

You get the feeling now, that they are only looking into all of this because they got caught having had no audits in the past of data recipients. Sir Nick Patridge is now leading a review due in a couple of weeks. I sincerely and respectfully hope that his review is more transparent than the last.

Who has taken responsibility for where we have got to in the last year?

Government? Mr. Poulter, Hunt or Cameron, whose plan is this anyway? There has been nothing but dismissive comment which fails to address serious issues and party political point scoring, or no comment at all but how “fantastic for humanity” it will be. Yet is meant ‘only for commissioning.’ See why we’re confused Mr. Hunt and Poulter when you both claim has entirely different purposes? Where is the truth we can trust?

NHS England? Mr. Kelsey now seems to be hiding behind a tree. Or perhaps playing jazz as he tweeted the night before the Public Health Select Committee the last time. Whilst I appreciate it was at a health conference, Nero and Rome sprang to mind. I’ve asked nicely and been ignored, what happened and who is fixing it? Will there be some sort of public progress announcement from NHS England, perhaps from Ciarán Devane, who is on NHS England Board and now chairing the Advisory Committee trying to latch the stable door? There’s just been stunning silence since the pause announcement.

HSCIC? Clearly nothing to expect from them. Because Kingsley Manning and Max Jones seemed to believe everything was in their remit, legal, and not their fault if the directions from government and NHS England allowed sharing data with all comers. And their Get-Out-of-Jail-Free-Card, they shared concern with the Department of Health about the publicity campaign. (Admittedly, 3 months after the GPES advisory group and others had done so).

Amazingly, Kingsley Manning seemed to thrust the opt out rate from HES into the arena as some sort of achievement. in terms of the number of people who have acted to opt out, it is 14 over the past four years.”

Which only confirms how few of us knew HSCIC stored it and could link Secondary Uses data with Personal Demographic data on demand. (Compared with how many are opting out now we know, of

And whilst until this whole debacle I and most of the public did not know our hospital records were shared with any other organisations, beyond the NHS and legitimate public research, we now find the gradually closing net around our health data uses, means understanding it has gone to all sorts of commercial organisations. And clearly HSCIC has been caught doing something which now feels wrong even if legal, the HSCIC defended not the action, but their legitimacy for doing so:

Kingsley Manning: We operate according to the Act as it has been passed. We make decisions on the basis of the current regulations. It is not our job to make a judgment on whether we agree or disagree with the nature of a commercial organisation. That is not a criterion on which we act.

Q270 Barbara Keeley: So you are prepared to release even sensitive data out to organisations that just want to do a price comparison website on different pay procedures between different hospital consultants. That was what you did.
Kingsley Manning: I am terribly sorry, but we are bound by the law and the regulations. Under the current regulations that is perfectly legal and legitimate. Indeed, it is arguable that it is a benefit to the health and social care system as a totality. That is an argument that you, Parliament and the public will have to consider.

As part of the public, I have considered it. Too often in the last 8 months. Even whilst making yellow pea soup today, I was thinking how wrong it is for the government to sell our confidential data without having asked us if they could have it in the first place. To take something without asking, we teach our children, is wrong.

Not one person responsible for their part in the execution of the rollout has yet said they are sorry as an apology. I am terribly sorry here, was interchangeable with ‘well, pardon me.’ 

But a true apology for such an almighty mess (Ben Goldacre said so on twitter in better words on February 22nd, but I try and keep readable above a PG rating), would at least be an admission that there is room for improvement. Improvement we can hope to build trust upon. Right now, we have vital Public Health research which it appears, is now on hold and costing money, because it is lumped in with all these commercial uses.

People are opting out of clinical research. And withholding information from their GPs.

Between the three of your organisations, Government, NHS England and HSCIC, if you want us to trust your intentions for the handling of our NHS patient data in future, try harder. Try to seem truthful and seem like you care. And mean it.

Because right now, it only looks like you’re sorry you got caught. You’re playing pass-the-parcel with responsibility. And using our public money to do so.

Kingsley Manning said previously, we should have “intelligent grown up debate” around Please, lead the way. For right now, it feels like kids squabbling in the back of the car, hoping we’ll just muddle though to get to October and they can ask, “are we there yet?”

As anyone with kids will know, that doesn’t make for happy parents.

********* For reference, the Health Select Committee extract about the Cabinet Office OC/HES/030 – Project National Citizen Service Data Linkage Project *********

Barbara Keeley: There was a lot of saying, “It’s nothing to do with us, guv; this all happened in the past.” You answered the question in that way when this person was a very senior manager, to the extent that he accompanied the Secretary of State on a trip to the United States to sign a data-sharing memorandum of understanding, and, to me, it is astonishing that you should say that the person who had been the chair of the DAAG did not have that responsibility and that you are still wriggling to try to get out of that now. I am not happy with that answer, Chair; I just do not think that is acceptable. 

Kingsley Manning: I am sorry. We are trying to be as transparent as possible.

Barbara Keeley: I don’t think so. I really don’t think so.
Kingsley Manning: May I just talk you through the history of this so that you can get a sense of it? [see full text for history] At that point, we knew that Dr Davies was redundant. He had been made redundant on the abolition of the information centre, and we put in place a plan to deal with that. He was in post. We were not in a position—
Q222 Barbara Keeley: Sorry—you had a plan to make him redundant last year?
Kingsley Manning: No, no. He was made redundant by virtue of the abolition of the NHS IC. It was not our decision.
Q223 Barbara Keeley: So you kept him on for eight or nine months?
Kingsley Manning: We kept him on because we needed to have cover on clinical governance and on clinical advice.
Q224 Barbara Keeley: In fact, he was a very senior manager, and he did accompany the Secretary of State on the visit when they shared the memorandum of understanding. And—
Kingsley Manning: He did. I was there also.
Q225 Barbara Keeley: Let me say a bit more. This is the person that you were making redundant, but you let him chair the DAAG, and he made a number of controversial decisions, including the decision out of committee to release the sensitive medical records of individual teenagers—
Kingsley Manning: I am sorry; that is not true, I am afraid.
Q226 Barbara Keeley: It was reported to be true—
Kingsley Manning: I think you are referring to the fact that he was asked to give advice by the Cabinet Office. He had actually worked for the Cabinet Office on the matter. He gave advice on the consent model that they were going to use. We never released any data and we have not been asked for any data by the Cabinet Office on this matter.
Q227 Barbara Keeley: This was reported last summer by The Guardian newspaper that the sensitive medical records of teenagers on the National Citizen Service were released. That was apparently “an out-of-committee decision” by the chair. Dr Mark Davies was allowed to make decisions out of committee as the chair, and that decision was apparently taken last summer.
Max Jones: I can clarify that Mark Davies did provide advice, as is one of DAAG’s functions, on the consent model, which was being considered by the Cabinet Office, but we have not received a request for that data, nor have we provided any data. The discussion that Mark had was referenced and recorded in the January—I think it was January; I’ll check in a minute—DAAG minutes.
Q228 Barbara Keeley: At least six months after the discussions took place.
Max Jones: That may be the case.
Q229 Barbara Keeley: So this is the person that you are going to make redundant—
Max Jones: No data was requested nor shared. Advice was requested on the consent model, which was given.
Q230 Barbara Keeley: What was requested was linkage of data, wasn’t it? It was linkage to medical data.
Kingsley Manning: No, he was asked by the Cabinet Office to give professional advice on the consent model they were considering. He gave that advice, which was a perfectly sensible thing for him to do. That was the end of the matter.
 Max Jones: And that was recorded in the minutes of DAAG held—
Q231 Barbara Keeley: Yes, I have a copy of that in front of me. You talked earlier, and it is quite important, about transparency. To have recorded this six months after it happened and to then be trying to change something—I am not aware that The Guardian was challenged on the fact that data had been released. It seems there is a very hurried after-the-event style of things happening here, and that is not good for transparency. This is being talked about quite a bit. People’s confidence in what you do has been really undermined by this and the fact that there could have been any suggestion of linkage to medical records for those people taking part in the National Citizen Service. For heaven’s sake, there are all kinds of undertakings made to them as they sign up to that service, and quite rightly. They even have an opt-in for their personal data, so to even consider that, and not to have documented what was happening until six months after the event, just makes you look shady.
 Kingsley Manning: I agree, but we did not have a data request. I absolutely agree, by the way, with your essential point, which is the sensitivity of linking these data in any way with receipt of data—benefits and all the rest of it.