NHS England’s controversial flagship project dubbed care.data could face further delays after the organisation’s new chief executive, Simon Stevens, told MPs that the programme’s “artificial start date” should not be set in stone.
The programme had to be postponed for six months after rising criticism from patients, doctors and privacy groups over plans to extract patient record information from GPs’ surgeries to a centralised database, from where it would be sold to pharmaceutical companies, researchers and other organisations.
But rather than the project starting immediately after those six months, Stevens said that the NHS shouldn’t have to stick to an “artificial timescale”.
“Clearly this is an important moment to listen much more carefully to what a range of people have got to say about how this programme should develop,” he said.
Despite the current delay, NHS England’s director for patients and information Tim Kelsey wrote to stakeholders explaining that pilots for the programme are to begin this autumn, with up to 500 GP practices trialling the initiative ahead of a national rollout.
“This will involve a cohort of between 100 and 500 GP practices to trial, test, evaluate and refine the collection process ahead of a national rollout,” Kelsey wrote in the letter.
The programme, which has been embroiled in controversy since its inception, aims to link primary care data from GP practices with the new Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) and clinical care groups (CCGs).
But the anonymous data it aims to share is not covered under the Data Protection Act, meaning that if anonymous patient record data were to be leaked or misused, the Information Commissioner’s Office would not consider it against the law – if anyone found out about it.
Earlier this month, Computing revealed that the care.data programme had cost £1.3m to date – but this did not include costs associated with staff time or any technology purchases.