The NHS and patient data

David Cameron is sweetening the controversial announcement that he’s planning to talk to pharmacos about data mining the NHS’s clinical data with a promise of faster access to newer treatments….

But (and for someone who’s as strong on personal privacy as I am on corporate transparency, this is perhaps counterintuitive) – I think he’s on to something.

The NHS’s collection of patient data is  a fantastic resource that’s just not exploited. Partly it’s because it’s mostly in trolley-loads of folders with paper notes and printouts of various incompatible scan machines, partly because the question of patient confidentiality – and supposed need for individual consent – has always stopped it being exploited.  But if it were mined effectively, doctors could get a lot better at prescribing.  There has to be lots of evidence that bulk statistical searches of the data would show up – evidence of drug interactions, positive and negative, that we don’t know about, clues to preventing and curing all sorts of disease. It’s frankly irresponsible not to try to release this data to medical research.

Of course, patient confidentiality must be respected. But  orderlies  telling the paparazzi that a Z-list star’s in A&E are a much more serious threat, and much harder to manage.

Properly anonymised, this resource should be made available, not just to pharmacos, but to anyone who’s interested.




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