The UK’s cabinet member in charge of healthcare, Matt Hancock, has chosen an interesting way to try and advance the message that having their medical data shared actually “benefits” citizens.
A “think-of-the-children” style policy paper has been published by Hancock’s Health and Social Care Department, entitled, “Data saves lives.”
This comes in the wake of the realization that data, particularly the highly sensitive kind like medical data, can actually ruin lives – when it gets in the wrong hands. That is why the UK’s national health service, NHS, recently got its plan to obtain patient data from general practitioners (GPs) delayed by the government from the planned date of July 1 to September 1 following Reclaim The Net’s campaign.
The program, dubbed General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR), proved so controversial as to force the government to step back and consider the criticism surrounding it coming from places like the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of GPs, among others.
The government has nevertheless pledged to go ahead with the program, but give the process more time – one would hope to gain a better understanding of what’s at stake with what some reports have called “the biggest data grab in NHS history.” The plan is to centralize data from 55 million patients into a single repository. Not for nothing, doctors and privacy activists alike sounded alarm bells over the plan.
But judging by Hancock’s paper, the motive behind the delay may have been simply to rationalize the program. The Covid pandemic is once again used to justify a contentious policy, with Hancock writing that personal data harvesting is to be credited for pretty much everything: from finding out who’s most at risk to powering research and rolling out new life-saving treatments.
“Data made all the difference,” the minister asserts of the apparently stellar handling of the now unprecedented, a year-and-a-half and ongoing pandemic. And unspecified “new treatments” stemming from all that data “saved lives in communities across the world,” Hancock asserted.
The one thing he doesn’t address is the crux of the criticism of the scheme: giving not only public sector researchers, but also private companies, including marketers, access to the data in question.