Mary Dejevsky: What's new? The NHS already sells our data

Notebook

Share

David Cameron got himself into a spot of unnecessary bother this week because advance reports of an initiative to make patients' data available to drug companies appeared not to make absolutely clear that it would – in the jargon – be "anonymised".

Thus something that was designed as a good-news story – "NHS patients will help speed up the development of new medicines" – became a bad-news story: "Your personal data will be sold to the wicked pharmaceutical companies". And all this hours before the Prime Minister had even uttered a word. Such are the risks of news management.

It turns out, of course, that the data will be "anonymised" – that is, compiled in such a way that it will not be traceable back to the individual patient. As was only to be expected. And if it is anonymised, should the NHS not be able to make money from it – money that can be ploughed back into new treatments or patient care?

Which is not to say that there is no issue with patient privacy, only that the hue and cry that preceded Mr Cameron's speech – not least, I suspect, because he is seen as rather closer to the business-end than the patient-end of medicine – would have been better directed elsewhere. And specifically at the widespread dissemination of other people's data by those whose job it is to protect it.

At the phone-hacking inquiry last week, the singer Charlotte Church, testified that word about her first pregnancy could have been obtained through hacking. Another source, however, could well have been a medical professional in the know.

Oh, yes, this happens. How else was I bombarded by text messages offering me legal services to sue, within days of being treated at A&E for a broken foot? Why else might my husband have received mail-shots offering pricey private diagnostics for stroke risk, within a couple of weeks of being prescribed the anti-clotting drug, Warfarin? Or brochures for medical equipment in the weeks after an operation? And how come birthdays are preceded by offers for life insurance, or, more menacingly last time around, an invitation to engage in some forward planning, given that "funeral costs are rising fast".

Coincidence, of course, cannnot be excluded. But the leakage of personal information, including date of birth, postal address, mobile phone number and medical ailments, is now endemic, and not a few individuals, I would hazard, are benefiting mightily. If anyone is going to earn money from our data, is it not better by far that it should be the NHS?

Tear down those walls!

When the Iron Curtain disintegrated, out too went the dingy nets and broken blinds that had kept the light out of historic buildings across East and Central Europe. Letting the sunshine in was a mark of the new, more optimistic, more transparent order. So I was delighted to find that the Mall Galleries – at the Trafalgar Square end of this magnificent thoroughfare – is to remove its Sixties-era internal walls to expose its elegant windows.

Let those of a troglodytic disposition complain, but in my book it was a crime to block out some of the most glorious views in London. Now the ICA next door should open up the windows of its café, so we can clink glasses while admiring the vistas of St James's Park.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone