Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted this morning that NHS patients who have refused to give consent to existing data-sharing mechanisms would be safeguarded under the government's new plans to open up information across the service.
The Cabinet minister confirmed to The Register that the 750,000 patients throughout England who have already opted out of having their data shared would be automatically protected.
When asked if those privacy settings would be wiped out, Hunt told us: "No," and added: "We will respect those who have already opted out."
He was less clear, however, about how those patients who have already rejected having their information shared would be ringfenced from the Department of Health's plans.
The Secretary of State announced the blindingly obvious today about safeguards for plans to share more data contained within personal medical records by confirming that patients will be able to opt out of the system.
Hunt was speaking at the Electronic Patients Record conference in central London this morning at the launch of Dame Fiona Caldicott's review.
Earlier, the Oxford University pro vice-chancellor had stated that members of the public do want more sharing of information, particularly at hospitals where they're being treated, but it isn't always easy to gain access to GP records. She said that many people had expressed to her that much more joining up of systems was needed to treat patients and give them social care in the future. But she confessed that, at present, members of the public are not told "nearly enough about how their data is used".
Caldicott urged Hunt to communicate widely his plans to move the NHS to a "paperless" system by 2018.
The minister claimed, when asked if there was any delay in allowing patients to access their GP medical records online from 2015, that there was no "slippage" on that plan but indicated that not all information would be shared with patients two years from now.
He said: "We need to move the centre of gravity towards sharing and away from not-sharing of information" and claimed: "GPs will not share records if people object. Essentially people will have a 'veto'."
But that veto involves patients having to proactively opt out of the system.
Importantly, Caldicott had earlier noted that the UK's Information Commissioner's Office had not yet fined an organisation for sharing data. She thinks this needs to change.
"I hope that the Secretary of State will consider taking this on board in order to reassure the public," she said.
Caldicott added that NHS patients needed to be able to trust that their data was being safeguarded. She advised: "There needs to be a much better balance between confidentiality and the need to share." She said the framework around this should be "redrawn". ®