Care.data pilots to start in GP practices

Surgeries to test different types of communication including letters, leaflets, e-mails and texts

Pilots of the controversial care.data scheme are due to start in four areas of England this autumn, according to NHS England.

GP surgeries participating in the pilot will test different types of communication with their patients, including individually addressed letters, leaflets, e-mails and text messages.

These will explain the benefits and risks of data sharing and make it clear to patients that they have the right to opt out from having their confidential information shared, NHS England has said.

The programme will start in participating GP surgeries in four clinical commissioning group (CCG) areas: Leeds North, West, South and East, Somerset, West Hampshire and Blackburn with Darwen.

The initiative, which aims to set up a database of people's GP medical records, was originally due to start extracting data from GPs in April.

However the start of collection was delayed in February to provide more time to inform the public, after a backlash from privacy experts who said that patients would be easily identifiable by data linkage.

NHS England has not yet disclosed which of the 265 GP practices within those four areas will participate.

ComputerworldUK asked NHS England to provide a specific date for when the pilots are due to start but it did not receive a response.

NHS patients and information director Tim Kelsey (pictured) said NHS England has been listening to the views of the public, GPs and other groups since the scheme was paused in February.

He said: "We have heard, loud and clear, that we need to be clearer about the care.data programme and that we need to provide more support to GPs to communicate the benefits and the risks of data sharing with their patients, including their right to opt out."

As it stands, almost a third of GPs plan to opt their patients out of care.data if NHS England refuses to make the scheme opt-in only, according to a survey by GP magazine Pulse published in August.

However NHS England has insisted that the programme's risks are outweighed by its benefits.

By linking coded information from GP practices with hospital data, it says commissioners will gain a better understanding of disease and patterns and trends in public health, allowing them to improve patient safety and develop new treatments.

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