Atos to work on NHS care data project despite ongoing 'mess' over disability benefit assessments

Despite the Disability Minister Mike Penning admitting the reassessments were in 'chaos' Atos will roll out the controversial project

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Outsourcing company Atos will be managing the removal of personal data from GP records, despite question marks over the success of its reassessment of those on disability benefits.

The French IT company, which has come under fire for its role in testing people currently receiving disability benefits, will manage the extraction of patient records from GP surgeries as part of the controversial NHS data-sharing scheme.

The data-sharing scheme won’t begin until autumn after enormous pressure from groups including the Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association (BMA).

Doctors have said patients are “inadequately informed” about the NHS's plans to share their medical records and that health officials must do more to raise awareness of the implications of the project.

Under the NHS scheme, data from GP records will be linked with information from hospitals to give an idea of what happens to patients at all stages.

The data that will be extracted by Atos from GP systems includes information on family history, vaccinations, referrals for treatment, diagnoses and information about prescriptions.

It will also include data such as a patient's blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol levels.

Personal confidential data (PCD) identifiers will also be taken, such as date of birth, postcode, NHS number and gender.

The written notes a GP makes during a consultation will not be extracted. The data will be held by the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) and anonymised by officials there.

Fully anonymised data will be made available publicly to anyone outside the NHS.Data considered to be potentially identifiable - for example where a patient in a small town has a rare disease - will only be released to approved organisations for the specific purpose of benefiting the health and social care system.

NHS England plans to make this “amber” data available to organisations outside the NHS, such as medical charities, think-tanks, data analytics companies and universities.

Private firms such as pharmaceutical companies might also be able to obtain the data under plans to be discussed next month.

An online petition, by campaign group, has received over a quarter of a million signatures from people protesting against the sale of information to private companies.

Meanwhile, a risk assessment by NHS England, the organisation behind the scheme, raises concerns about the initiative.

The document, obtained by The Daily Telegraph, states: “The extraction of personal confidential data from providers without consent carries the risk that patients may lose trust in the confidential nature of the health service.”

It adds: “The risks described include threats associated with 'cyberspace' such as hackers attempting to access the data illegally.”

Atos has repeatedly hit the headlines over “fitness for work” tests on disabled benefit claims it carries out for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Last week, Atos confirmed it was seeking an early exit from its contract with the Government in the face of persistent death threats to staff.

Atos Healthcare said it had been in discussions with officials for “several months” about ending its £500 million work capability assessment contract which is due to run to August 2015.

The company has been heavily criticised over the assessments - which are used to gauge eligibility for employment and support allowance and incapacity benefit - amid claims people are being wrongly recommended for work, or put through stressful medical interviews.

Last summer it was announced that the company, which was originally appointed by the last Labour government in 2008, had been instructed to implement a “quality improvement plan” following an “unacceptable” deterioration in the quality of its written reports

At the same time the DWP said it would be seeking to bring in additional providers in order to increase capacity and cut waiting times.


Additional reporting by PA