‘The plan to make patient data available to private companies is all about using the NHS as a treasure trove for profits for private business.’
BMA Council Member Anna Athow was responding to prime minister Cameron’s announcement yesterday that the NHS is to be ‘opened up’ to private healthcare firms.
Cameron said in his speech in London: ‘The end-game is for the NHS to be working hand-in-glove with industry as the fastest adopter of new ideas in the world.’
Under his plans, NHS records will be made available to private companies, which will also be given freedom to run clinical trials inside hospitals.
Cameron announced a £180 million fund to commercialise medical research.
BMA Council Member Athow said: ‘David Cameron says that the NHS should be opened up to private healthcare firms, using patients’ anonymised data.
‘He says that the “end-game” for the health service is to drive innovation and growth by working “hand in glove” with industry.
‘The plan to make patient data available to private companies is all about using the NHS as a treasure trove for profits for private business.
‘It has nothing to do with progressing science. If it did, how come that scientists at leading universities are publicising “ruinous cuts” to university research departments.
‘The universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Imperial and University Colleges in London are being hit by 65% funding cuts to their capital budgets this year hitting their research departments.
‘The higher Education Funding Council will only give £45m to Cambridge in the next three years, compared to £100m in the last three years.
‘Similar cuts are being made to the others.
‘The privateers have to be kept out of the NHS!’
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Science and Ethics at the BMA warned: ‘We are especially worried by recommendations that would grant researchers, possibly from large commercial companies rather than the patient’s healthcare team, access to patient records.
‘This could mean that details of an individual’s health status and treatment will be revealed if researchers are able to search through records and identify patients in order to contact them.
‘The BMA will be examining these proposals carefully. We believe that patient records must be kept confidential and be anonymised if they are to be used for research purposes unless explicit patient consent has been obtained.’
Patient Concern condemned the plans, saying the information would include postcodes and age profiles which would be possible to trace back to the individuals concerned.
Joyce Robbins, of Patient Concern, said: ‘The methods of doing this are not at all acceptable . . . they stink frankly.’
She continued: ‘Our records should not be passed around by the Department of Health as they see fit or sold to private companies without our permission.’
Nick Pickles, of civil liberties group, Big Brother Watch, said: ‘It is for patients, not the government, to decide what happens with their medical information.
‘It appears that commercial interests are being put ahead of patient privacy and that is unacceptable.’