Barbara raised a question today in the Commons about the accuracy of comments made by the Public Health Minister Jane Ellison on the NHS patient data released in 2012 to insurance actuaries. Barbara’s questions prompted the Minister to apologise to the Commons about her comments creating an “incorrect impression about events”.
The release in 2012 of 188 million NHS hospital medical records to insurance actuaries had been questioned by Barbara and other MPs at a recent meeting of the Health Select Committee.
A report on the use of the data obtained by insurance actuaries had made clear that the patient data released was “at individual episode level” which allowed the analysis “to identify patients across all their hospital admissions” and to build “medical histories” of individual patients. The report makes clear the hospital data obtained had included many identifiers including diagnosis; age; gender; area where the patient lives; dates of hospital admission and discharge.
Given this admission, Barbara questioned why the Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison, had said that the data released to the insurance actuaries was “publicly available, non-identifiable and in aggregate form”.
Barbara also raised the issue that it was now being reported that the patient data released may also have been put online, ignoring the obvious need to protect the patient data. The Health and Social Care Information Centre admitted that the NHS Information Centre was aware that a company to which it had given the patient data had uploaded the information to Google servers. This meant that interactive maps of the data to be produced “in seconds”. HSCIC said that a data mapping tool had been taken down at its request and an ivestigation had been launched.
“Public trust in the ability of the NHS to handle patients’ confidential health records was pretty low after reports of this release of patient data to insurance actuaries for commercial purposes. I and other Health Committee members asked for full disclosure of all the details related to the release of this data to the insurance industry and any other data releases of hospital patient data. Now it seems that the released data, which had many fields identifying individual patients, was uploaded on servers and even made available online.
“The Public Health Minister has had to admit to me and to the Commons that her comments about the data were not accurate. The launch of an urgent investigation into this raises further very serious questions about the way in which various NHS bodies have dealt with sensitive patient data is treated and whether data protection principles have been breached. Health Ministers and NHS England have to come clean on these issues if they are to stand any chance of rebuilding the trust of patients in how their confidential data is being dealt with by the NHS”