The NHS data grab puts profit before people
By Peter Cranie, Green Party health spokesperson
The resignation of Matt Hancock as health secretary has quite rightly given rise to calls for further scrutiny and several questions that require urgent answers.
From queries over Gina Coladangelo’s appointment as a non-executive director of the Department of Health and Social Care last year, to Hancock reportedly using his personal email for government business, there are clearly a number of unresolved issues that go right to the heart of how this government works.
And while for the good of our democracy it is essential we get to the bottom of these issues, let us not forget that there are even more pressing issues we must take action on thanks to the now former health secretary’s desire to once again put profit before people. Many people are now asking does this government work for us? Or in the interests of its mates and health corporations?
Under his plans, the government is looking to bring in a huge change to the way our medical records are handled by the NHS. The plan is to pool data from millions of GP records into a single database, that will then be available to private companies and researchers who apply to view the data.
It’s not hard to imagine just who will be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of gaining access to our most sensitive and personal data.
Just imagine how much money knowing someone’s medical background would be worth to insurers, leasing companies and lenders. Promises have been made that the data will be “pseudnoymised” but critics worry that medical histories are so personal that some individuals will be clearly identifiable.
With the appointment of Sajid Javid as the new health secretary, this is a crucial moment to raise your objections to the scheme and demand that he puts a stop to it.
We’ve been here before. Back in 2013 the coalition government proposed “extraction” of identifiable medical data from GP surgeries that could then be passed onto private companies.
The Green Party opposed the proposal then, and were part of a successful campaign that stopped the idea in its tracks.
Now the Conservative government wants to bring it back under a new guise. Let there be no mistake, this is part of an ideological drive to give private companies the opportunity to make money from our most personal data.
This will not only cost you your privacy, in the long run it could hit us all in the pocket.
These plans could enable US health companies to potentially make huge profits off the back of processing some of our most sensitive and personal data.
And our NHS may then face the prospect of having to buy back the processed data, with the resultant cost to taxpayers. We will end up paying for their shareholder distributions.
There is absolutely no excuse for this when we already have a strong infrastructure in our UK Higher Education system to analyse this data confidentially in a not-for-profit way.
Our 2019 General Election manifesto, promised to “end the sale of personal data, such as health or tax records, for commercial or other ends” and it is in this spirit that we oppose these plans to centralise medical data to provide access to third parties.
There has been some successful push back. The political website openDemocracy put together a coalition that threatened legal action of the data grab and successfully forced the government to pause its rollout.
This means that as an individual you have until 23 August  to opt out of the data grab and ensure your medical records cannot be accessed by private companies. But we would ask you to do more and to join the campaign to make sure that nobody’s data is sold and used for the benefit of private companies.
The Green Party opposes these plans for the same reasons now as we did in 2013. The privacy of patients has to be protected and our collective data should not be used by companies to make a profit.
That is why we would urge everybody to sign openDemocracy’s petition, calling on the government to drop its plans to share our data with private companies for profit and to hold a proper consultation on the rest of the plan before proceeding any further.
The collection of data from GPs will start on 1 September, however a number of surgeries are setting a deadline of 23 August to receive patients’ opt-out forms