GP fears losing job over pledge to keep patient data private

GP fears losing job over pledge to keep patient data private



A GP fears losing his job after he was told by NHS bosses he could be found in breach of contract after he pledged to opt out all of his patients from the health service's new data sharing scheme.


Dr Gordon Gancz is one of two GPs who decided they would automatically withhold patients’ private medical information from the scheme when it launches later this year due to concerns that the public have not been properly informed about it. NHS managers sent the Oxford GP a letter telling him to remove any 'opt out codes' he has in place to automatically withdraw his patients from data-sharing, or he will be in breach of his contract. Dr Gancz said the letter was an example of “blatant bullying” by the NHS to force people to support the data sharing scheme - which says patients can only opt out if they explicitly inform them. The GP was also told he must remove information on the website for his practice, King Edward Street Surgery.


His website reads: “This practice takes its duties to safeguard patient confidentiality extremely seriously and so we have decided to assume (even though doing so may turn out to be illegal) that all of our patients wish to opt-out of this data extraction, until such time as you inform us that you wish to allow your data to be used in this way.”


But Dr Gancz said he feels he has a duty of care to his patients and they should have to agree to their personal information being used. He told Pulse magazine: “It will be interesting to see what power they have, if any, to stop one simply stating what is the case. People are being bulldozed into giving consent by default - that is on my website and it’s nothing but the truth - how can they tell me to take it off?’ He added: “The logic of this email is that unless I give in to the bullying of NHS England and illegally - as defined by the Data Protection Act and the GMC - release my patients’ confidential information, I shall have my contract to work as a GP withdrawn.”


The scheme is due to start in Spring and will share patient data from GP practices with the Health and Social Care Information Centre to identify trends and poor performance in the NHS. It is also hoped the new system will help target treatment where there is a specific clinical need. At the moment only hospital data is used, and it is hoped by using GP data, information will be more accurate and patient care improved. However there are concerns that data could be accessed by hackers and become identifiable, or be sold onto private companies who could use information to target products and profit from people's illnesses.


A survey by Pulse magazine recently found four in ten GPs intend to personally opt out of the scheme because they are so concerned about the security of data. Proposed European Union laws on data protection could also render the scheme illegal.

The letter to Dr Gancz, sent from NHS England’s Thames Valley team, said: “We wish to discuss the remediation needed because you have published on your practice website information about the extraction indicating that you intend opting your patients out of the data extraction unless they contact you to opt in.”


A spokesman for NHS England said they wanted patients to understand how important having information was to help them improve patient care. He said: "If a patient wishes to object to their information being used for purposes beyond their direct care they must do so autonomously based on balanced, accurate information about how and why their information will be used."


By Claire Carter,


The Telegraph, the 5th of February, 2014.


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