Care.data pilots to begin at up to 500 GP surgeries in the autumn

Health and Social Care Information Centre considering a data depository for companies who want patient data

NHS will extract patient records from hundreds of GP practices this autumn to test the controversial scheme before a national rollout goes ahead.

After delaying the initiative in February following public uproar, a care.data advisory group, formed in March, has advised NHS England to trial the patient record extraction scheme before rolling it out across the country.

A letter from Tim Kelsey, NHS England's director for patients and information to stakeholders revealed that 100 to 500 GP practices will begin to extract data this autumn, "to trial, test, evaluate and refine the collection process".

Kelsey added that steps have been taken "in making changes to the law".

He stated: "This will increase the protection of confidentiality and ensure there is greater transparency around the release of data by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

"Over the coming months, the HSCIC will work to provide assurances over the safety of data collected, stored and shared, including the option of accessing data from a controlled environment, sometimes referred to as a 'data-lab' or 'fume-cupboard', for use by organisations requesting data."

Care.data was suspended in February after fears that patients would be easily identifiable by data linkage. NHS England suffered criticism following reports that its publicity scheme, consisting of a leaflet drop, to alert the public that data would be pooled on a national database failed to reach all patients, leaving the public largely unaware that their information would be extracted with or without consent.

Critics said that although the data will be 'pseudonymised', it would only be a matter of time before identifiable patient data will be held by a number of companies across the world and patients won't be able to do anything about it.

A spokesperson for NHS England said: "We are in discussions and will provide more information in due course."

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