Patients will be identifiable when firms are given access to confidential NHS data, experts warn


Privacy experts have warned that commercial firms will be able to identify people when they are given access to confidential NHS patient data.

The Health and Social Care Information Centre is set to go live later this year allowing health or big pharma companies to buy patients’ medical records for the first time.

The HSCIC claims to have been set up to make research easier and to help drug insurance and health companies understand side-effects and trends on a national scale.

But companies like Bupa or Virgin that already hold data on UK patients may be able to use the new anonymous data available from the centre to precisely identify where it has come from, according to campaigners. 

Phil Booth, co-ordinator at patient pressure group medConfidential, told the Guardian: "One of people's commonest concerns about their medical records is that they'll be used for commercial purposes, or mean they are discriminated against by insurers or in the workplace.

"Rather than prevent this, the scheme is deliberately designed so that 'pseudonymised' data – information that can be re-identified by anyone who already holds information about you – can be passed on to 'customers' of the information centre, with no independent scrutiny and without even notifying patients. It's a disaster just waiting to happen."

The information for sale to profit-making firms will contain NHS numbers, date of birth, postcode, ethnicity and gender.

Patients can choose to opt out of the system by contacting their family doctor.