In a press release, the UK government has released a new data strategy proposal that will allow data such as Covid-19 test results to be shared in the NHS app and be ‘easily accessible’ for users.
The draft strategy ‘Data saves lives: reshaping health and social care with data’ was published today by NHSX and hopes to give patients “control of their health data.”
According to the press release, the data strategy puts privacy and security at the forefront, stating that users of the NHS should have confidence that their medical information will be completely secure.
The strategy seeks to allow records to be shared between systems to allow “faster, more specialised treatment” whilst powering “vital research” to discover “new treatments and insights to save lives.”
The NHS app has been mentioned as a key tool for data to be shared between patients and care staff, as it would allow users to manage appointments, refill medications, and see their Covid-19 test status.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “Data saves lives. More effective use of data will deliver better patient focused care. It will free up staff time to focus on patients and allow clinicians to make better, more informed decisions on treatment and support.
“The pandemic has taught us we must be bold and the great strides we have made on vaccines and treatments during this time have been made possible by the way we use data.
“This strategy seeks to put people in control of their own data, while supporting the NHS in creating a modernised system fit for the 21st century which puts patients and staff in pole position.”
The strategy apparently will only share patient’s data anonymously, and this data will be analysed to identify key health trends of the nation, which allegedly will allow the NHS to “identify, prepare for and respond to future diseases.”
As listed in the press release, the draft strategy proposes:
- putting patients at the heart of their health and care data, with easy access to their own healthcare records
- giving health and care staff easier access to the right information to provide the best possible care through shared records and simplified information governance
- enabling the proportionate sharing of data for the purpose of supporting the health and care system
- giving adult social care high quality, timely and transparent data so they can make individualised choices to personalise care
- modernising data architecture and infrastructure underpinning the health and care system to improve standards, protect data and stay ahead of cyber risk
- supporting innovation for the benefit of patients and staff such as empowering patients to test and monitor changes in their vision remotely using an app, and using AI to assess data from care home worker’s reports to predict the likelihood of falls and hospital admissions of patients, enabling appropriate safeguards to be put in place
- building on improvements to speed up access to data during the pandemic, where there is clear benefit for the system as a whole.
The government have stated that these plans are set to be rolled out in summer.
But how will this strategy really be used? The NHS app is currently being trialled as an immunity passport through the government’s Events Research Programme, whereby those who have been fully vaccinated or have tested negative for Covid-19 are able to gain access to large events after showing their “green badge” within the app.
Additionally, the UK government is planning to allow a patient’s NHS information to be shared with research bodies and organisations for “research and planning.”
Medical information including a patient’s mental health and vaccination status will be shared with third party organisations, but the public can opt out before the scheme is introduced in September 2021.
Vaccine passports have been discussed over the past year by the government as proposals have been made for introducing passports for international travel, which has recently been given the green light as travellers can prove use their immunity passport to gain entry to other countries such as Spain and Poland.
Currently, the NHS app includes a ‘CovPass’ which is being used for international travel and details a user’s vaccination status. Currently, digital passports last for 28 days if you have received both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, which then automatically renews after the time period is up.
With a spotlight being put on the NHS app and it being pushed onto the British public, it is worth questioning what the agenda is behind this application and what it means for our freedoms. It seems as though this new data strategy could only be a further driving force behind the introduction of domestic passports in the UK.
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