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NHS shares 1.6 million patients' medical records with Google as part of data-sharing agreement

“There are existing and strong processes for doing safe medical research using data; but this project seems to have followed none of them."

Published 03/05/2016

Google has received the information as part of a data-sharing agreement with the NHS and insists that it will only use the information for the purposes of improving healthcare (AP)
Google has received the information as part of a data-sharing agreement with the NHS and insists that it will only use the information for the purposes of improving healthcare (AP)

The NHS has given the medical records of 1.6 million patients to Google, it has been revealed.

The records have been shared with Google as part of a data-sharing agreement between the technology giant and the NHS, revealed by The New Scientist.

The records relate to patients of three London hospitals which form the Royal Free Trust; Barnet, Chase Farm and Royal Free Hospital collected over the course of the last five years. An estimated 1.6 million patients attend the hospitals every year.

Google says it intends to use the data as part of its group DeepMind to develop a health app which can help recognise kidney injury. However, campaigners have expressed concerns that the data-share is a breach of trust and not in patients’ interest.

Phil Booth, coordinator of medConfidential which campaigns for confidentiality in healthcare, told The Independent that the data-share was “not in the spirit of the NHS.”

He said: “There are existing and strong processes for doing safe medical research using data; but this project seems to have followed none of them. To ensure patient confidence, properly run projects require transparency on what is being done, and why. That is to protect patients from the confusion about what this data will be used for.”

Google has denied this, stating that it is following strict HSCIC information governance rules.

Google has been criticised in recent times for perceived privacy breaches due to the amount of data which it holds on individuals. In 2014, 38 US states sued Google when it was alleged that the cars with which the company takes Google Street View photographs had also been collecting data from computers inside the homes they drove past.

The company has also been accused of sifting through information on messages sent by users through its system to sell the byproducts to advertisers and not making it sufficiently clear to customers that it is able to read wifi passwords.

Google DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman told The Independent: “We are working with clinicians at the Royal Free to understand how technology can best help clinicians recognise patient deterioration- in this case acute kidney injury (AKI). We have, and will always, hold ourselves to the highest possible standards of patient data protection. This data will only ever be used for the purposes of improving healthcare and will never be linked with Google accounts or products.”

A spokesperson for The Royal Free London told The Independent: “Absolutely no patient-identifiable data is shared with Deep-Mind. All information sent to and processed by this app is encrypted and is only decrypted once returned to the clinician’s device. Patients can opt out of any data-sharing system by contacting the Trust’s data protection officer.”

Independent

Independent News Service

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